Knight continued, and also suggested another Web site

Levine said it was important to give the youths various outlets and resources for information -- whether they chose to be sexually active or not. To do so, a committee of medical professionals, youth organizations such as the YMCA, and representatives from the largest church in Bayview/Hunter's Point participated in the project's development.

In addition, SexInfo offers resources for kids who need temporary housing, or simply someone to talk to.

Positive Results

The program is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, McCright said, and has cost about $50,000 to date, including advertising -- billboards in the targeted neighborhood, flyers distributed to schools and in the streets, and posters on bus shelters, among other publicity tools.

"I don't think taxpayers should have to subsidize misinformation, and the corruption of children," Knight said, "and that's what's happening here."

Preliminary results, however, show that the service is successful in reaching out to adolescents.

With the Hip Cricket software, the SFDPH and ISIS can track the number of messages sent to SexInfo. In its first month, the service received 904 text messages to the five-digit number, followed by 1,212 secondary messages, in which youths chose one of the 11 answers.

In addition, McCright said, teenagers and young adults are using the resources recommended by the service. "The youths are going to those as a result of getting that information through the text-messaging program," she said.

Other cities have taken note, Levine said, and have shown interest in developing similar programs. Levine, however, said she would like to see the service expand to a wider scope.

"We are most interested in providing a national service where people would be able to go to SexInfo, type in their city or their ZIP code, and get local resources and information, rather than adding city by city, or area by area," she explained. "It's almost like a hotline, but via text messaging."

For now, the service is automated, but Levine said the software can let someone answer questions one by one, though funds aren't currently available to staff such a position.

After the four-month pilot, the SFDPH extended the program for another year. Further research after the year-long extension will determine whether the service successfully minimized gonorrhea rates among kids in Bayview/Hunter's Point.

Still, early results show the SFDPH's success in reaching out to youths on their own terms, and involving them in the development of a solution to a community problem that affects adolescents directly.

"Everything we do, we involve them in the planning," McCright said. "What might be cool to us as professionals might not be cool to youths."

Corine Stofle  |  Staff Writer