DANVILLE — When Monica Beasley got pregnant for the first time, she wasn’t prepared to be a parent.
She was 16 and a freshman in high school.
Beasley said she became a rebellious teen in response to suffering childhood trauma including growing up in poverty, her parents’ drug addiction and being sexually assaulted by a male relative from ages 5 to 11.
“I drank, partied and did all of the things I shouldn’t have been doing at my age,” she recalled, adding that included becoming sexually active with her boyfriend.
Beasley, director of the East Central Illinois Community Action Agency’s Educational Talent Search Program, will share her story of being a teen mom — and how she pulled herself out of poverty and works to help young people make good choices — at an event aimed at preventing teen pregnancy.
The first “Desserts & Decisions,” for girls 12 and older and their moms or caregivers, is being held Thursday at Mer Che Manor, 723 Oak St., Danville. There will be a variety of desserts, door prizes and other giveaways. People can still RSVP by calling 217-443-5689.
The event will feature a panel discussion consisting of Beasley, two other former teen moms and Dr. Karima Schmila, an OSF HealthCare obstetrician/gynecologist, whose interest includes high-risk pregnancies, including teenage pregnancies. A Q&A will follow.
The event is being hosted by the Vermilion County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Work Group, which is working to reduce teen pregnancy. According to the county’s IPLAN community health assessment, it remains a top concern.
Local health officials said the county has a nearly 50-year history of high rates. In 2016, the rate was 9.5 percent. While that’s the lowest it has been since officials started keeping track in 1970, it still was still double the state’s rate.
Other alarming facts, according to data in the community health assessment:
— 45.4 percent of Vermilion County teens surveyed said they’ve had sex had least once.
— 5.1 percent of teens reported having sex before reaching 13.
— 6 percent of high school students have been pregnant/fathered a child one or more times.
— And 7.3 percent of sexually active teens have had unprotected sex.
“Working to decrease births among teens will be a strong return on our investment that directly translates into more students graduating from high school ready for further education and career training,” said Chaundra Bishop, the work group’s coordinator.
The group has also been working on a teen-pregnancy prevention manual, said Ashton Greer, OSF’s community health program manager and work group member. It will be available at the event.
In addition to becoming pregnant, Beasley said her bad choices, including hanging out with the wrong people, landed her in trouble with the law. She was arrested for being an accomplice in a robbery and sentenced to six months of work release, six months of home confinement and five years of probation, which she finished early.
As part of her punishment, Beasley, who had dropped out of high school, was ordered to get her GED.
“That was a turning point,” said Beasley, who got sober, got counseling and realized that education was a way out of poverty and making a better life for her and her children.
She ended up earning an associate degree in accounting from Danville Area Community College and a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in human resources management from Argosy University. Beasley, now the mother of seven, is currently working on her doctorate from Trident University International, while working at the community action agency and being a community activist.
While she loves her children “with everything inside me,” Beasley hopes to encourage youth who are sexually active or thinking about it “to not go down that path.”
“Wait and finish school. Enjoy your teenage years,” she said. “Think about it: A teenager, girl or boy, has no clue about parenting. They’re still babies themselves. I want them to give themselves a chance to live their best life — and their children, too. That means waiting until you’re mentally, physically and emotionally ready.”