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New Mexico: Albuquerque Program Has Barbers Mentoring Youth

July 15, 2005

The South Valley Male Involvement Project (SVMIP) in Albuquerque aims to improve educational and clinical services for men, reduce risky behavior, and prevent violence, teen pregnancy, and STDs. Barbers offer a great opportunity for furthering the organization's goals because they are in regular contact with clients every day, said Michelle Melendez, a New Mexico Health Department spokesperson. Ten of 11 barbershops asked to participate in June agreed, she said.

SVMIP places brochures and posters in barbershops, and barbers refer at-risk young men to agencies that can help them with issues from AIDS prevention to substance abuse. According to Melendez, a barbershop is "a very nonjudgmental, non-threatening place to have these kinds of conversations."

This week, five barbers from three barbershops provided feedback and offered direction for the project.

"I decided to get involved because we're right across the street from West Mesa High School," said Conrad Padilla, co-owner of Conrad's Barber Shop. "A lot of kids sit in the shop and say, 'Oh, I'm going to get high later.'" Padilla said he and barber Tom Atencio warn clients about the dangers of drugs.

Hair stylist Annette Romero is a single mother with two children. She decided to participate because she can relate to teens. "It's tough, because I wasn't educated when I was young," Romero said.

If the program is successful, it could be replicated statewide, according to Francisco Ronquillo, the project coordinator and physician assistant at Alamosa Public Health Office who conceived the idea for SVMIP.

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Excerpted from:
Associated Press

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