The telephone number for Simplicity of Sophistication (SOS) was listed incorrectly in yesterday's District Weekly. The correct number is 261-1739.
Each year, hundreds of D.C. girls make the "mistake" mothers fear most for their unmarried daughters.
They become pregnant.
And too often, the pregnancy permanently and unfortunately alters the course of their young lives.
In 1978, the last year for which local government statistics are available, an estimated 4,617 unmarried D.C. girls under the age of 20 gave birth, miscarried or had abortions. According to a spokesman for the research and statistics division of the Department of Human Resources, real numbers could be much higher since not all teen-age pregnancies come to the attention of health officials.
Tiza Watkins and Florita Green, both in their 30s and parents themselves, were appalled by the statistics, particularly those for black teen-aged girls.
Both women had worked as counselors at one of D.C.'s first abortion clinics in the early 1970s, and the gravity of the problem became increasingly apparent to them in the pained faces and twisted lives of the youngsters referred to them for help.
When Watkins eventually counseled a pregnant 9-year-old in 1976, she remembers thinking, "This situation has gotten entirely out of hand. Something has to be done."
Soon after, she and Green, a girlhood friend, got together and formed Simplicity of Sophistication or SOS, an organization designed to give black girls a variety of experiences beyond those the often-limited resources of their families and the public schools made possible.
"I'd look at the rising statistics on teen-aged pregnancy and ask myself what else these girls had to do," said Watkins. "It didn't take very long before I realized that that was the heart of the problem."
Watkins said she saw the wide variety of special activities available for the children of upper- and middle-imcome families of all races, and realized that many low-income people ". . . for the most part, don't have the money to amuse their daughters."
As she sees it, the schools provide little in the way of appropriate diversion for young women.
"In some senses, it's still a man's world," she said."The school system amuses the guys with football, basketball -- just everything. And the girls can be cheerleaders or take part in intramural sports. And hang around waiting for the guys . . . But what if a young girl thinks she wants to go on to college? To learn to fly an airplane? To become a foreign service officer?"
The program Watkins and Green designed takes about a year for a girl to complete. They begin by giving instructions in grooming, makeup, fashion and modeling -- "This is what many black girls are interested in, so that's what I use to get them hooked," Watkins explains -- and move along to a wide range of activities, including sports and visits to museums, theaters and restaurants.
The girls are given information on hihger education, scholarships and grants.
And in the discussion groups, which meet weekly in the basement of Green's mother's Southeast Washington home, there is plenty of room for questions about boys, sex and birth control.
"We don't get preachy or parental with them," Green says. "We just talk truthfully to them whenever the subject is brought up. We find that no one has ever taken the time to teach a lot of the girls proper physiological terms. So maybe there is some time devoted to that kind of a discussion. You know, a lot of girls get pregnant out of ignorance."
In addition to taking part in cultural and athletic activities, the girls serve as models at various community functions. Watkins and Green say while they do not want to give false hope to a girl who could never be professionally successful as a model, they believe it is important for black girls to take pride in their appearance, and not allow themselves to feel inferior to the images of beauty presented by white society.
Girls who have taken part in SOS agree that their self-confidence and poise were increased after they attended the sessions. Many found out about SOS through word of mouth, although Green encourages phone calls from young women interested in becoming part of the program. She can be reached at 261-1731.
"We get a lot of support to try new things and explore new ideas," 17-year-old Donna Holland explained enthusiastically. She once would have described herself as shy, she said, but now credits involvement in SOS with helping her to realize, "I am valuable as a human being just because I'm me. I don't have to compromise my beliefs in order for people to care about me."
Robin Holmes, 13, one of the group's newest members, has found it valuable to know older girls to whom she can look for advice and support. "Already," she says, "I realize that there are a lot of areas which I can explore. I don't know exactly what I want, but I have learned that it's all right to seek out the unusual and the different." i
Watkins and Green, along with a third instructor, Anna Johnson, receive no financial reward for their labors. In fact, they usually use their own funds for the activities they sponsor. But both women write off the financial burden, saying they are dedicated to helping young black women improve themselves in any way they can.
During a recent session, Green, looking fondly at her young charges, noted, "Their successes are my reward."
With Watkins watching proudly from the background, 16-year-old Barbara Flynn explains that SOS has taught her to focus on her positive aspects, to challenge herself continually and to see herself as "a vital human being -- more than just another young girl with a pretty face."
The teen-ager, who says she would like to be an architect or a pilot, sums up her SOS experience by saying, "They have helped me to grow . . . to become more intelligent.
"I feel tall."