Teens like to talk, and sex is a favorite topic. Jatrice Martel Gaiter encourages teens to talk—and gives them a safe environment to do so—because it could save their lives.
Gaiter is head of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, which most people associate with contraception and reproductive health. But the young people who flock to the Teen Clinics she’s created have a broader agenda. Some come to do their homework, others to feel cared for and respected.
Young people are a passion for Gaiter. Previously a leader at SOS Children’s Villages and three United Way affiliates, she has helped start a women’s shelter and promote teacher education.
Planned Parenthood’s five area clinics provide healthcare and education to 50,000 men, women, and teens each year. Ninety percent of its services are sex education and family planning, and two-thirds of its clients have little or no health insurance.
Teens are especially vulnerable. To launch the Teen Clinic in DC’s Ward 7, Gaiter won the trust of local churches, schools, and sports coaches. Volunteers teach photography, writing, and advocacy and lead field trips: “The White House, Kennedy Center, and Smithsonian may as well be on another planet” to these kids, she says, “so we do a lot of those.” There’s a book club, homework help, support groups, snacks, an innovative mental-health program, and professional clothing and advice for those preparing for job interviews. Since 2003, the center has served 4,000 youth.
Two years ago, PPMW launched a similar clinic in Gaithersburg aimed at Hispanics. Even being open twice a month—as opposed to six days a week—it’s serving more than 500 teens a year.
As a College Park government major, Gaiter didn’t expect to hang a bulletproof vest at the office. But she’s no stranger to hardship. An Army brat from a poor family, she lived all over Washington and helped raise her siblings after her mom, a DC teacher, died young.
“Sometimes I think of these kids as my kids,” Gaiter says, and she backs up the sentiment with hugs, mentoring, and supplies. “When she sees a need, she does something about it,” says a DC parent. “She is the type of person many of our teens want to become.”