Tampons, Lip Balm, Cocoa: Startups Cultivate Female Cannabis Lifestyle (Vocativ; April 2017)

Original Vocativ article here.

2017_04_18_WomensCannabisLifestyle2941982798When Diane Czarkowski, 50, is ready to relax at the end of a long day, she uses cannabis to take off the edge in the same way many women her age unwind with a glass of wine.

“For me, it’s a good way to transition from work-mode, when my brain is going a thousand miles an hour, to settling down and making dinner,” she said.

Cannabis is pretty much incorporated into her and her family’s lifestyle. Czarkowski owns a fashionable Annabis “toke-bag” that has odor-proof compartments to prevent her bag from reeking of pot, she just signed up for DIY class on cannabis-infused skincare products, and she talks freely to her children about cannabis culture at the dinner table.

Granted, Czarkowski, and her husband work in Colorado’s burgeoning cannabis industry at their cannabis business consulting firm, Canna Advisors, so being familiar with the product comes with the territory —but she maintained that she, her husband, and her friends are representative of a growing class of professionals who are living an openly (and moderately) cannabis-infused lifestyle. “If anything becomes too prevalent, it’s not a good thing,” she said.

As weed is legalized in several states and developed in less potent forms, cannabis is losing its stoner stigma. Czarkowski and many other female executives in the business, who make up a third of leaders in the industry, talk about cannabis more as if were a lifestyle product you’d purchase at Whole Foods or CVS.  At the same time, companies are marketing cannabis personal care products — from sexual enhancement oils and massage oils to even cannabis-infused tampons — specifically to women, who they know make the vast majority of household consumer and drug store purchases. These brands often emphasize the benefits of cannabis or cannabis compounds without the tropes associated with its use.

“What we’re finding as we look at the data is cannabis is very much a part of lifestyle. It’s also a part of routine,’ said Linda Gilbert, who works for the cannabis market research firm BDS Analytics. She said the firm’s recent statistically-representative survey of 1,200 adult cannabis users in Colorado and California found that 45 percent were women. Of those, nearly half said they were likely to use marijuana or marijuana containing products to relieve PMS, menstrual cramps, manage mood swings. About a third said they’d use it to enhance sex or relieve menopause symptoms.

Companies have taken notice. For example, take Whoopi Goldberg’s line Whoopi and Maya: It sells products like Epsom salts and raw cocoa aimed at relieving menstrual cramps and menopause symptoms and other ailments. Its products use THC, the chemical compound in weed that gets you high, and CBD, a cannabis compound that doesn’t share THC’s psychoactive properties but is being used to fight acne, fibromyalgia, and insomnia, among other ailments.

“Our demographic are people who would like to be healthy, want to feel relief, and don’t want to consume chemicals,” said the brand’s co-founder Maya Elisabeth. “It’s definitely for the working woman who doesn’t have to take time off for her menstrual cycle.”

Increasingly, businesses are marketing cannabis as a product that’s beneficial for its health properties, rather than its psychoactive experience—which explains why microdosing, ingesting just a small amount (10 milligrams of less) of THC, is being touted by busy professionals for its creativity and productivity inducing properties.

Kiva Confections, an Oakland, Calif.-based, women-owned edible firm, is just one of company making “chill pills” meant to appeal to women. According to Christie Strong, Kiva Confections’ marketing communication manager, the company’s main customer demographic is in their mid-30s and above and skews mostly female. Right now the brand’s most popular products are its Terra Bites, chocolate covered blueberries and coffee beans with five milligrams of THC, and its Petra Mints, which have a mere 2.5 milligrams of THC. “They’re the perfect product for a new patient and ensure that no one is going to have an overwhelming experience,” Strong said.

Since launching in 2010, Kiva Confections has grown to 70 employees and is in over 1,000 collectives in three states. But unlike a traditional confections company, Kiva Confections faces more adversity when it comes to marketing its products through traditional marketing avenues.

“Instagram has shut us down eight times,” said Strong. The guidelines for posting products on social media are inconsistent, she said, which is challenging since many of the company’s customers make purchasing decisions through these channels. Because of this challenge, Kiva Confections relies on educating their current customers through word-of-mouth-marketing.

“Our users essentially become our biggest advocates,” she said. Much like how wine companies will sample product at grocery stores, Kiva Confections has brand ambassadors who host sampling events and focus on “bud-tender” education, as they are the ones making recommendations at dispensaries.

This word-of-mouth component is essential, Gilbert said, because once women find a bud-tender they like they become loyal fans. Her interviews revealed that women’s relationship with their bud-tender is much like a relationship with a hairdresser. If they move dispensaries, the women will follow.

Skin care and other alternative forms of application are also new markets for companies. For example, CBD For Life is just one company that sells topical products without THC, making it easier to export. Founding partner and sales director Mollie Twining said the woman-owned and operated company, which launched in February 2016, saw over $300,000 in sales last year and is looking to grow by 50 percent in 2017. “Bed Bath and Beyond reached out,” Twining said. “They’re interested in carrying our products and hearing more about us.”

Caroline Rustigian-Bruderer, founder of the PR and branding firm K-Line & Company, is a fan of the company’s topical line, which promotes CBD’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial products. She uses it for a variety of ailments from sunburns to cuts to aches and pains. Having once represented Clinique, she predicts mainstream companies will develop products that contain cannabinoids such as CBD some day.

Eventually women will likely become the gatekeepers as to which cannabis devices and products are used in the home, according to Emily Paxhia, managing director of San Francisco-based Poseidon Asset Management, a hedge fund for the cannabis industry. Cannabis makes sense to people seeking ways to relieve pressures of daily living, she wrote in an email, because it’s a natural substance that has been used as medicine for centuries.

“We are living in a time where people are seeking new behaviors and are going back to ancient foods, medicines and practices to relieve stress… I think brands that are winning with women are the ones encapsulating the things women care about—health, wellness, maintaining a busy life effectively, looking good and being present.”

How the Blood Center of Central Texas Became We Are Blood (Austin Monthly; January 2017)

Original Austin Monthly article here.ButlerBros_WeAreBlood_1-ae3c843f.jpgREBRANDING EXPERTS THE BUTLER BROS. EXPLAIN HOW THEY KEEP IDEAS FLOWING

Drivers on North Lamar Boulevard or Slaughter Lane may have recently noticed something new, and a little odd, while passing the Blood Center of Central Texas. The sign there, which previously featured the (not-at-all remarkable, merely serviceable, purely perfunctory) former name of the organization, now reads as a somewhat puzzling declarative sentence: “We Are Blood.” The brain trust behind this macabre rebranding are Adam and Marty Butler, aka The Butler Bros.

Sitting in their East Austin studio’s conference room recently, sipping cold cans of LaCroix sparkling water, the Butlers finish each other’s thoughts when discussing their 14-year-old company. “Having a business is like having a child,” says Adam, 43, who serves as the strategic chief. “When you’re 7, you’re reasonable, but you still have a lot to learn. We’re almost ready to drive,” quips Marty, 42, the creative chief. “Your brand builds and so do your practices and beliefs. And you get confident in your ways of doing business. That’s very much happened in the last three years.”

Before launching their studio, the brothers spent several years working at the GSD&M advertising agency—Adam as a senior writer and Marty as a senior art director. They started freelancing in a bedroom at Marty’s house in 2002 to make extra money. A year later, that collaboration turned into The Butler Bros. They now have 10 employees and an expanded portfolio with projects ranging from the rebranding of the Austin Children’s Museum into the Thinkery to producing a short animated film for the Clif Bar Family Foundation. They also recently launched former New York Times food journalist Mark Bittman’s podcast, Get Bitt, which grew out of a conversation Adam had with Bittman at a plant-based food conference in 2014. (Adam asked him if he’d ever want to do a podcast. Eighteen months later, The Butler Bros. positioned him as “the frankest food voice in America.”)

The brothers worked on the We Are Blood rebranding, which debuted in October, for more than six months. Like they do with every client, they began with a “blitz”—a one- to three-day session that taps the ingenuity in the room by running groups through several drills. We Are Blood’s blitz included phlebotomists, the nonprofit’s leadership team and board members, and a drill that involved a mock funeral for the brand. “A board member stood up and started to cry when he gave the eulogy,” Adam says. Through a blitz, a team sets its objectives for the work and comes up with a strategy. That is followed by research—which, in the blood center’s case, had team members donate blood.

After ideas get tested, poked and prodded, the best one survives. “Good ideas tend to have some inherent tension in them,” Marty says. “They probably make some people feel uncomfortable because they’re not immediately accepted. Because there’s probably something fresh there.” Fresh blood? That works for us.

Uncommon Threads: Fort Lonesome’s custom designs are as cool as it gets (Austin Monthly; March 2016)

Original Austin Monthly article here.

UncommonThread_Main-a5e7a25a.jpgThe Fort Lonesome studio in the Zilker neighborhood whirs with activity. As Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” plays on the stereo, four industrial vintage Singer sewing machines purr. One woman sews a silver jacket at a frenetic pace while her colleagues stitch patches and a tapestry. In the center of the studio is a petite woman, Kathie Sever, 43, who sketches designs at a large table. Sever founded this hand-cranked chain-stitching operation in 2013 after putting aside Ramonster, her Western wear line for children, after 13 years. Since then, she’s designed custom-made shirts for Bill Murray, Jimmy Kimmel and Richard Linklater in a style reminiscent of the famous rhinestone suits tailored by Nudie Cohn.

As timing would have it, the loose and loopy sewing technique of chain-stitching is having a moment, Sever says, thanks to the rise in popularity of Western wear and motorcycle culture.  Now musicians such as Jenny Lewis and Nikki Lane go to Sever for their stage outfits. “It’s been funny to watch all of that happen after doing it for 15 years, and now all of a sudden it’s a thing people know about,” Sever says.

To make each one-of-a-kind item, the process begins with a conversation about the client’s aesthetic. In Lane’s case, the musician gives the designer “free rein.” “She’ll send me photos of things she loves, and I’ll use that as a vibeto play around with,” Sever says. A sketch and a palette is then shown to the client for feedback, and the design is stitched after a final drawing is laid out on the garment.

Having custom “flash” put on a ready-made item can take a few hours to a few days, but a custom garment, which requires taking measurements and selecting fabrics, can take up to a week and a half. (A bespoke garment starts at $600.) No matter what the work, it’s a labor of love, even if it took a while to catch on. “Nobody ever knew what chain stitching was,” Sever says. “People knew what Western wear was, but very few cared about it.” Now, everyone does.

Eye On the Prize: By making styling trophies, Eva Schone comes in first (Austin Monthly; August, 2015)

Original Austin Monthly article here.

32_ALIST_EyeOnThePrize.jpg

Eva Schone is a sentimentalist. The living room of the 40-year-old designer’s Brentwood duplex is filled with the type of plants her family owned while she was growing up in East Germany. That same feeling of love and acknowledgment is evident in the products of her company, Trophyology, a boutique design firm specializing in sophisticated, high-quality trophies, plaques and gifts.

Trained as an architect at the University of South Florida’s School of Architecture and Community Design, Schone started her business after seeing a need in the market and—frankly—receiving one too many chintzy awards. “I was proud of the recognition, but I never felt I wanted to show any of them,” she explains. So she set out to create heirloom-quality awards that reflect the same kind of excellence as that of the trophy recipients. In 2011, while traveling around Europe, she designed her first collection. Upon her return to Austin, where she has been living since ’06, she went to the American Institute of Architects chapter and presented the Emerging Professional Award she had once received and a prototype for a redesigned version. The organization responded: “How do we order?”

Since then, Schone has collaborated with several local and national organizations, including Austin Energy Green Building, Corgan, Hanger, Inc. and Savant. In May, business-to-business magazine Counselor listed her as a successful entrepreneur and trailblazer in its annual 2015 “Hot 25.”

Trophyology’s custom designs can take several weeks to complete. Schone approaches them as architecture projects, creating 10 to 20 models before handing off her drawings to her contractors, who make the pieces using North American hardwoods and locally sourced materials. The results don’t come cheap, with trophies ranging in price from $275 to $575. But even a stationery box displays a handiwork that comes from the heart and expresses gratitude and appreciation. In fact, when asked who her dream client would be, Schone gets a little misty. “I have a sweet spot for all of the people who made the Berlin Wall fall down,” she says. “That was such a big deal, and I don’t want to forget that. I’m very grateful for the people who helped.”  

Michael Sieben: It Will All Happen Again (Glasstire; February 6, 2014)

Original Glasstire story here.

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Michael Sieben has spent most of his adult life recalling what it’s like to be twelve-year-old child. As managing editor of skateboard publication, Thrasher Magazine, he tries to look at his surroundings with a youthful excitement, leaving his jaded thoughts at the door. That nostalgia for adolescence is on display in It Will All Happen Again, at the UT Austin’s Visual Arts Center.

Sieben is a commercial skateboard illustrator and designer who has worked with giant brands, including Adidas, Volcom clothing and Vans. His “boys clubhouse” aesthetic is recognizable for being fun and irreverent, often incorporating pumpkin-headed monsters with long arms juxtaposed with humorous, apolitical text, but this exhibit is more introspective, referring to his life growing us as an avid skateboarder in Seguin, Texas in the ’80s.

Alluding to a line in Peter Pan, It Will All Happen Again is about discovery and loss of innocence in a colorful setting at the brink of childhood, when adolescents begin exploring a bigger, adventurous subculture through videos, zines, magazines and other ephemera entering from outside the protective confines of what’s familiar and ordinary.

sieben dweller eye

The concept of the show stems from the artist’s childhood fantasy of living under a wooden ramp his father built for him in 1986. Sieben’s trademark monsters have been replaced with The Dwellers, represented as mysterious eyes peeking out from dark corners. One pair of eyes flickers from behind the door to a tiny room inside a tall plywood skateboard ramp. “As a kid, you see The Dwellers everywhere,” Sieben says, “When you grow up, you stop seeing them.” Having stripped characters from his work, Sieben’s exhibit pushes viewers to decide who The Dwellers are, and to rediscover the curiosity of youth.

It Will All Happen Again encompasses seven large acrylic paintings, a tall skateboard ramp installation, a clubhouse, a makeshift campfire pit, a short animated video and – being no stranger to brand identity – a streamer with pennants with The Dwellers’ logo. Each piece is peppered with mischief while adhering to an infantile palette of pale yellow, light blue and pink, from the soft-hued collection of books and toys in the clubhouse to the pastel-painted rocks around the fire pit.

Stump Dwellers

Stump Dwellers

The paintings, on square wooden decks, emulate silkscreened skateboards. Sieben and his painting assistant Denton Watts purposely applied mis-registered lines over flat blocks of color to replicate a printed look. Each frame depicts imagery children see when investigating the outdoors, from a pair of eyes peeking out from a tree stump in the forest in Stump Dwellers to a tough snake slithering through a wooden plank in Discovery 2. The imagery and execution of the paintings was inspired by Sieben’s experience walking into his first skateboard shop in San Antonio as a pre-teen. Looking at rows of screen-printed skateboard decks displayed on the wall, embellished with gruesome images of dragons and skeletons created by highly skilled commercial artists, such as Jim Phillips and Vernon Courtland Johnson, had a profound impact on Sieben.

Discovery 2

Discovery 2

“As a kid, I thought I definitely wanted to be a children’s book illustrator,” Sieben says. “But once I walked in that skateboard shop and learned that people got paid to draw these boards, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” His decision ultimately led him to UT’s College of Fine Arts in the ’90s, where he looked to artists of the Mission School in San Francisco for inspiration while honing is skills to become a commercial artist.sieben feature small

Completing the three-month UT artist residency was a challenge for Sieben, who works full-time and is the father of two young children. To finish It Will All Happen Again under deadline, he tasked his friends to help execute the designs he envisioned.

sieben a frame

The A-frame clubhouse in the center of the exhibit was built by Sieben’s friend Adam Young from reclaimed plywood boards. The space is a hideout where you can escape to have your first beer or read a dirty magazine, Sieben explains. Inside is a bed covered with a T-shirt quilt Sieben’s friend Pearly Rihn made from dozens of T-shirts the artist designed over the years. Graffiti, stickers, flyers and posters and a couple of propped up skateboards decorate the inside walls. Charlie Brown’s Encyclopedias, Sesame Street figurines and other ’80s bric-a-brac from Sieben’s personal collection share space on the wooden shelves with a few dried seed pods, a bottle of wine and a can of beer. A T-shirt and a baseball hat hang over a rafter, as if being set out to dry after a day of swimming in the creek.

In the corner of the gallery, a short animation plays on repeat. Sieben wanted to write prose that tied the exhibit together, so he collaborated with his friend Michael David Aho to animate and singer-songwriter Will Oldham to narrate The Dwellers, which was included in a limited number of zines Sieben produced for the exhibit. The Dwellers is about turning back to your childhood. It encourages viewers to remember that the mysterious things they once saw in trees, sheds and under the bed still exist if they take a moment recognize them.

Sieben credits his penchant for collaboration to working with Okay Mountain, an art gallery and collective he co-founded in 2006 after closing his own gallery space, Camp Fig. Okay Mountain was comprised of Sieben’s contemporaries, including the founders of two other Austin spaces, Fresh Up Club and The Artist Studio studios.

In 2008, Okay Mountain was invited to put on a group show at The Creative Research Laboratory. It was Okay Mountain’s first exhibit making new work as a collective. The result was It’s Gonna Be Everything, a collection of installations, drawing and videos that represented the group’s playfulness.

That exhibit “led to all kinds of stuff,” Sieben says. A year later the group created Corner Store, a widely-lauded installation commissioned by Arthouse and exhibited at PULSE Miami 2009. Corner Store was a convenience store filled with products the artists created. Everything from the soundtrack playing in the background to the fixtures and signs was either altered or produced by the artists.

Brian Gibb, Director of The Public Trust gallery in Dallas, says Corner Store was the greatest thing he’s ever seen. “It was so smart, so funny and people devoured it,” Gibb says. “If you could imagine someone starving, and then walked into a store with all of their favorite food – it was that good.”

The success of the show eclipsed the Okay Mountaineers careers, exposing them to a broader audience, and Sieben received a lot more freelance work as a result. At the tail end of 2009, Harper Design asked him to illustrate the newest edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz  – fulfilling one of Sieben’s childhood dreams of illustrating a children’s book.

Sieben, 39, describes the last decade of his life as a blur. He spent the bulk of his ’20s and 30’s juggling multiple creative projects. While managing Okay Mountain, he worked as the designer for now defunct Bueno Skateboards from 2006 to 2008, and then co-founded his own company, Roger Skateboards, in 2009. He flew out to art openings around the United States, mailed homemade zines to artists he admired and wrote columns for Juxtapoz and Vice. But when his son was born in 2010, he made a conscious shift to prioritize his time so he could provide for his growing family. Just months before his daughter was born in 2013, he transitioned from being a staff writer to managing editor at Thrasher Magazine.

When UT approached Sieben about the exhibit, he was thrilled about the opportunity. Having a solo exhibit was one of his lifetime goals, and he hopes It Will All Happen Again is accessible enough to inspire young adults to create.

“I want to fill that same role for a kid who is getting into skateboarding, or art in general,” Sieben says. “It definitely transcends just skateboarding.”sieben campfire

All photos: Sandy Carson, courtesy of the Visual Arts Center in the Department of Art and Art History at UT Austin.

An app to track Parkinson’s disease (Time Out Chicago; September 27, 2011)

Original Time Out story here.  

“The big dream,” says Konrad Kording, “is to detect Parkinson’s before it even happens.” The 38-year-old sips herbal tea as he talks, his German accent barely noticeable after seven years in America. The skateboard he rode to work is propped outside of his 14th-floor office at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

At the unassuming office building in Streeterville, Kording—an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who earned his Ph.D. in Switzerland—is one of hundreds of inventors working to help patients suffering from physically debilitating ailments. One floor below, a team has been working for years to develop a mind-controlled prosthetic leg.

Kording, along with Dr. Santiago Toledo, is father to one of the institute’s newest projects: a smartphone program designed to help diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease of the nerve cells that afflicts more than 1.5 million Americans.

Insert requisite joke here about there really being an app for everything these days. But at its core, this program isn’t as far from Angry Birds as you may think. Shortly after the iPhone was launched, Apple debuted a series of TV ads in which people holding phones swapped contact information with a simple fist bump. The movement sensor that makes this possible, called an accelerometer, is also how a game like iBowl lets you knock over pins with the flick of a wrist. Over coffee last year, Kording and Toledo, medical director at the institute’s Orthopedic Rehabilitation Program, had a thought—what if the same technology that lets you “swing” an onscreen nine-iron could collect and chart the movements of Parkinson’s patients?

Many of us were introduced to Parkinson’s via Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed in 1991 at age 30. But the disease—characterized by uncontrollable shaking or trouble balancing; basically, your central nervous system is failing—is rare in people younger than 50. The average patient is more like Bucktown resident George Pappageorge, 57, one of about 20 people testing the app Kording and Toledo conceived.

Diagnosed six years ago, Pappageorge speaks slowly and methodically about living with Parkinson’s. He went to a physician after noticing that his left leg “felt funny” and he was having trouble squeezing toothpaste on his toothbrush. The disease, which runs in his family, mostly affects his gait; his left leg tends to drag. It hasn’t prevented him from working as an architect but does make it more difficult for him to play golf.

Pappageorge came to the Rehab Institute this spring after hearing about amplitude training, a style of voice therapy for Parkinson’s, from a woman seated next to him on a flight home from California. At the institute, Toledo invited Pappageorge to try the smartphone app. He decided to help test it because he wants doctors to better understand his disease. “All patients are different and progress at different speeds, and it’s confusing to find out how to administer services and medications,” Pappageorge says.

To train the app to respond to his body, Pappageorge selects an action, such as sitting or walking, and presses start. He slips the phone in his pocket and the app measures his movements until he takes it out and presses stop. Eventually, Pappageorge performs a series of actions without stopping the program, seeing if the app can recognize what he’s doing. In a study with seven patients, the app was able to identify what activity a patient was performing with 95.2 percent accuracy.

Out of the lab, patients simply carry the phones in their pockets; the app, which can stay turned on all day, is constantly collecting data. When patients upload the data, doctors can detect tremors, falls and more. By comparing that information with pill dosages and combinations, the app could help identify whether patients’ medications are working. Toledo, Kording and the app’s builder, NU postdoctoral researcher Mark Albert, believe it will prove much more accurate than having patients journal every hour, a common technique to monitor Parkinson’s.

It could also, Kording says, change the lives of at-risk patients—those with a family history of Parkinson’s or who have suffered head trauma. The team’s goal is to fine-tune the app to pick up on movements so nuanced, it will be able to diagnose Parkinson’s long before a doctor could, giving a leg up on treatment.

Kording and his colleagues are hoping to present their work at conferences this fall and have the app available to doctors and patients within a year. In the meantime, Pappageorge’s voice therapy is paying off: He no longer needs to walk with a cane. As he moves down the lab’s hallway for one of the day’s final exercises, he makes a complete turn and begins walking backward. “I couldn’t do this before!” he hollers, a big grin on his face.

[Link to story]

Latina teens in Little Village push strollers (Medill Reports Chicago; December 7, 2010)

It’s not uncommon to walk through Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood and see dozens of Latina teens pushing strollers. “Fifty-two percent of Latina teens get pregnant at least once before age 20 – nearly twice the national average,” according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Chicago is playing a significant role in that growth. Little Village – whose residents are largely of Mexican origin – is home to David G. Farragut Career Academy, the school that in 2002 had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, said Norma Rivera, a school nurse who has worked at Farragut since 2000.

The school is 92 percent Latino and eight percent African American, Rivera said. “In 2001 to 2002, we had approximately 125 pregnant girls – on record,” she said, suggesting that the actual number of pregnancies for that time period could be higher, if one includes teens who had miscarriages or aborted. At the time, Farragut had about 3000 students enrolled. Now, enrollment has dropped to 1,500 students and the pregnancy rate remains consistent or slightly higher. “We have about 75 pregnancies [a year],” she said.

Why they are getting pregnant

The girls believe in certain misconceptions regarding contraception, specifically the pill, Rivera said. “I have heard, ‘Contraception has side effects,’ So I say, ‘Having sex without contraception also has side effects, have you thought about that?’” But the less life altering side effects don’t seem to deter these girls from having unprotected sex. “The number one reason they will not take contraception is because they say they’ll get fat,” she said.

Dr. Kara Greeley works at Lawndale Christian Health center at Farragut. Many of the girls she sees are 15 to 16 years old. And while age 13 “is on the young side,” she said, they too get pregnant.

It is not uncommon in Little Village for a girl to get married at a young age and then get pregnant – but unwed mothers are still more common. Greeley, a resident of the neighborhood herself, explained many of the girls are psychologically programmed to start a family early and to have several children.

“It’s the norm – in terms of family history,” she said. “My older moms (patients) who grew up in Mexico had babies at 14 or 15 or 16,” she said. And the environment in which these girls live is also a contributing factor. “If you’re in a neighborhood where you don’t see anything but that, it’s sort of the expectation,” Greeley said.

Because of their low socio-economic status, many of the girls are not exposed to other ways of life. “If you’ve never known anyone who went to college or had a career before having a family, it’s going to seem like a really strange choice,” she said.

While clinic staff doesn’t hand out condoms in the school, they do prescribe them and they also prescribe birth control. But, according to Greeley, a teen on birth control is more likely to wind up pregnant. “I always tell a teen girl [that] if I put her on birth control, the odds are you’re going to come back in here pregnant, because statistically that’s true,” she said. Greeley tells the girls how to take the pill and gives them written instructions – but they often don’t take it properly – sometimes forgetting to take it and then having unprotected sex, falsely thinking they are not at risk of getting pregnant because they are on the pill.

Nicole Heath is a clinical psychologist at Rush University Medical Center and said teen pregnancy can be due to the inability to plan. “Your brain doesn’t fully develop until you’re 20, 21. The last part of your brain that develops is your frontal lobe and that’s the part that logistically plans something out,” she said. Teens lack the maturity to make their own decisions. And often, if their friends are pregnant or have babies, they may see it as the thing to do, she said.

Diana Reyes is 18 years old, five months pregnant, lives in Little Village and attends Farragut. Her parents are from Mexico. She had been with her boyfriend since 2005 and said [of their relationship], “we were just playing around,” until she wound up pregnant, “and it was a whole totally different story” – including her relationship status.

She is now single.

“I’m on my own,” she said. “We were not really planning it, but we were not avoiding it neither. So it was like, something had to happen,” Reyes said of her unplanned pregnancy.

Like many of her classmates, Reyes relied on the “pullout method” – and it failed her.

Getting pregnant has affected all aspects of her life. Before her pregnancy, Reyes said she was unhappy, was “all over the place” and partied a lot, but now she says that her thoughts and life are more focused. Before acting, she asks herself, “What am I going to do that is going to benefit my baby?” She has become more conscious of her exercise and eating habits; “no more chips and spicy food.” She also said that she makes a conscious effort to walk a lot and drink a lot of water.

Reyes is not alone among her group of friends. “Most of my friends, yeah they’ve become pregnant and stuff like that,” she said.

Dr. Melissa Gilliam is chief of family planning and a professor at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She focuses on the use of contraceptives among teens who are at-risk for unintended pregnancies. She has led several studies of pregnancy in Latina teens in Little Village and Pilsen. In 2007, she conducted a study about the factors influencing Mexican-American teens to start having sex. She studied 271 Mexican-American teens and young adults on Chicago’s West Side.

Gilliam said girls whose parents instilled in them a strong sense of self and encouraged them to pursue an education and a career were less likely to get pregnant at an early age. And conversely, she said, of those who didn’t look to the future, “We know that people who have plans for the next six months are less likely to get pregnant,” she said.

Gilliam said adolescents in general are less likely to use birth control as a form of contraception at the start of sexual activity. “Among adolescents, they seek birth control – on average – nine months after initiating sexual activity,” she said. But in the Latino community, especially with teens whose parents immigrated to the United States recently, contraception is still a taboo topic. While condoms and birth control may be available to them, Gilliam said that, “premeditated sexual activity was really considered bad.” By bringing a condom with them, girls could be called a “slut,” she said.

The perceived benefits of pregnancy

In the state of Illinois, if a woman – or teen – is pregnant, she qualifies for Medicaid “with very few exceptions,” Greeley said, noting that in the seven years she has worked at the health center, only once did she come across a case where a woman didn’t qualify. Along with Medicaid comes other services previously unavailable to these girls, and Greeley speculates the added attention and care are contributing factors to the high teen pregnancy rate.

“You can get a lot more services when you’re pregnant than when you’re not. You get WIC (Women Infant Child), you get a Medicaid card, you get in support groups, you get a lot of attention,” she said.

WIC is a federally funded health and nutrition program for pregnant women and new mothers and their children.

Sara Anderson, a social worker with Chicago Childcare Society, works at Farragut. “There are a number of students who plan their pregnancies,” she said. They’ve been with their boyfriends for a couple of years and, “its just kind of the next step in their minds,” she said. “Even if they [the girls] say it wasn’t planned, they weren’t using any form of contraception. They may not want to come out and say it was planned, but it wasn’t necessarily unplanned,” Anderson said. “And usually they are very excited about it.”

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