North Palm woman starts group to help teen moms

By Dianna Smith

Special to The Palm Beach Post

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Deana Cerniglia, 43

If inspiration is something you need to get through the day, then spend a few minutes with Deana Cerniglia.

She’ll certainly inspire you to want to do great things.

This 43-year-old author, teacher, wife and mother of three has spent much of her life helping others. Cerniglia, of North Palm Beach, gravitates towards trying to help inner-city kids and pregnant teens.

Her mother was only 16 years old when she was born. She was abandoned by her father and spent her early years living with six people, including an alcoholic grandmother, in a two-bedroom apartment. She eventually moved into a new home after her mother married a man who became abusive and they quickly found themselves drowning in a life of domestic violence that took years to finally flee.

Cerniglia has since become a Christian and her faith has helped her heal wounds and move forward with a happy, full life.

“I found a healing that can come from no other place,” she said. “When God speaks to you and says, ‘I’ve got a plan for this, you were never a mistake.’ My faith grew and grew. I could see this amazing plan unfolding.”

This plan includes a group she created called The Open Door, a nonprofit organization that mentors teen mothers.

The organization has charters at First Presbyterian Church in North Palm Beach and at Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach Gardens, where teens are matched with Christian mentors who help them establish goals and become independent to avoid relying on the welfare system. Right now the organization is helping a total of 20 girls.

Cerniglia is also the author of two books, “Words From the Wise” and another called “The Open Door,” which includes details from her life and the challenges her mother experienced as a teen mom.

“The only person who knocked on our doors was social services or adoption agencies and they all told her the same thing, that she couldn’t do it on her own,” Cerniglia said of her mother. “When I became a Christian, I realized we can’t just preach about life, we have to support people’s decisions and to help you where you are.”

Her group teaches the girls about finances, cooking, parenting skills and how to have healthy relationships. Cerniglia credits her past for allowing her to understand how to better serve people today.

“I love helping others move forward,” she said.


What are your hobbies?

Reading, boating, exercising and any hobby my children choose (because I will have to be there to watch them!

What would you do if you were invisible for a day?

If I were invisible for one day I would walk around the White House to see exactly what goes on behind closed doors.

If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?

Definitely Jesus. I’d order seven courses to have more time and I’d definitely ask Him to say the blessing over the food.

What is the best advice you ever received?

When someone shows you who they are, believe them. Don’t make excuses – just react accordingly.

What event in history would you have liked to have witnessed?

Jesus’s resurrection – I would have loved to have been someone who saw Him in those 50 days when He walked the earth – before the ascension.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

Definitely Thanksgiving at my Nana’s house with all my cousins running around – my mother is one of seven.

Who is your hero, someone who inspires you?

My husband (Chris). He’s my hero for sure. He’s gentle, kind and calm in any given situation. I am in awe of people who can stay calm under attack.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I was not only born to a teen mother, but I almost became one. Although my circumstance ended with a miscarriage it allowed me to experience the panic and the reality that my life might change forever.