Mentoring program for teen mothers expanding
They are young and pregnant and often scared. Many aren’t sure where to turn — until they find The Open Door.
The Palm Beach County-based Christian program arms the mothers, all in their teens and early 20s, with help paying for child care, advice for keeping a budget and, maybe most importantly, relationships with mentors who are moms themselves.
In exchange, participants make a few promises: that they’ll finish school, hold down a job, delay other pregnancies and attend weekly life skills classes. Later this year, the three-year program will graduate its first class of mothers, all of whom have fulfilled those requirements.
“I don’t even know where I’d be without them,” said 21-year-old Courtney Walker, mother to 3-year-old Caelin and soon-to-be graduate.
Now, two years after getting started, The Open Door is doubling its size. In September, two more churches — Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach Gardens and Calvary Chapel in Lake Worth — will join North Palm Beach’s First Presbyterian Church in offering the program.
All told, the three churches will serve 25 young mothers.
Last year, 691 teens gave birth in Palm Beach County, according to the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County. That’s down from 1,196 in 2009 to 691 in 2013.
Leaders at The Open Door say their program fills an important need.
“There is a huge breakdown of support once girls decide to keep their babies and be a mother to their babies,” said Angela Ball, one of the directors.
The Open Door is the only South Florida licensee of Teen Mothers Choices International, an Illinois-based Christian organization that trains churches and other groups around the world to help young mothers. The local organization was started in Palm Beach County by Deana Cerniglia, who was raised by a teen mother herself.
Ball said the goal is to help young mothers become independent and stay off government assistance.
“We’re breaking generational cycles two generations at a time,” she said. “We’re not only impacting the life of the teen mother, but also impacting the life of their child.”
To that end, they bring in a financial adviser during some of the classes, which last for three hours each week and also include Bible study, to assist with budgeting. Mentors, who must be Christian, attend the courses alongside the young moms each week.
But the relationship doesn’t end there. Mentors often spend hours each week with the moms they’re paired with. They give advice, go shopping, share meals and watch the babies to give their mothers a break.
“It’s just a great feeling to know that there are people there that care about you,” said Toni Cain, 23 and mother to 3-year-old Jayden.
Her mentor, Ellen Hobbs, said she loves the opportunity to support Cain and other young mothers.
“They’re brave, strong women that have chosen a very, very hard road,” she said. “So it’s nice to be able to walk beside them.”
Though the program ends after three years, the mentors say their relationships with the moms and their children will last much longer. Kelley Light, mentor to Walker and another young mother, said she can’t imagine it any other way.
“You develop a bond with them where they’re almost like part of your family,” she said.
firstname.lastname@example.org, 561-243-6531 or Twitter @britsham
For more information about The Open Door, visit mentorsforteenmothers.org or call 561-329-2191
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