CSS program gives hope, guidance
to young mothers
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
It’s impossible to imagine the fear.
A life unopposed, each day filled with possibilities, a future of fun and promise, suddenly turned upside down.
It’s impossible to imagine the anxiety and helplessness that a young girl – herself a child – feels when she learns that she is pregnant.
It is a problem that has proven prevalent in our society, but it’s also a problem with which Catholic Social Service’s Teen Moms program is equipped to deal.
The Teen Moms program, which was introduced to the Diocese of Dodge City by CSS social worker Amy Falcon in 2000, is designed to restore the promise, possibilities, and, not to mention, the sense of fun into the life of a teenager who is pregnant.
Between 1980 and 1990, teen pregnancies increased 14 percent nationally, 40 percent in Kansas, and over 80 percent in one southwest Kansas county alone. In 1994, the state of Kansas had the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, and four of the 28 southwest Kansas counties were in the top six counties for teen pregnancy. Of the 105 counties in Kansas, Ford, Finney and Seward were consistently among the top five in teen pregnancy rates per 1,000 between the ages of 10 and 19.
Every week, September through May, the participants of the Teen Moms program, who must be between ages 13 and 23, meet with Falcon and Maria Gutierrez, program assistant, where they enjoy a meal together while taking part in a workshop presented by a volunteer teacher. The workshop may include lessons on everything from parenting, to preparing their taxes, to applying for a college, to interviewing for a job.
“Teen Moms has been a big support for me,” one of the young moms said at a volunteer appreciation gathering held in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “They support you all the way. One way they support you is that if you attend the weekly meetings, you get ‘Teen Moms bucks.’ When I don’t have any money for diapers, I use the Teen Moms bucks and buy some diapers from the store they have in their office [in Dodge City]. I can also buy clothes, toys, etc….
“Another way Teens Moms has helped me is to give me a mentor. I’m really glad I have a mentor because she has been really helpful. She has been there for me when I needed someone to talk to. I would also like to thank all the food providers. All the food we receive is really good.”
“I originally signed up when I saw the flyer in the church bulletin,” her mentor said. “As a new stay-at-home mom, I was going crazy. I loved my job. I gave it up because it was for the good of my family. … But I had to get out of the house. …”
Having been a teacher, she felt that she had a lot to offer the young mom. What she didn’t know was how much she would benefit, as well.
She explained that the “girl time and talk time” were especially valuable to her. “It benefits both of us to be able to talk away from school, family and work. We can just talk and not have to worry responsibilities and obligations.”
Like many programs, Teen Moms is financially challenged under the current economic conditions. Volunteers are needed who can: provide meals for the girls during their weekly gathering; become a mentor to a girl, providing 10 hours per month for one year being a friend, and helping her reach her goals; “Discovery Workshop” teachers, sharing knowledge about a particular skill; and carpenter handyperson, who can complete the floors, walls and ceiling of the basement in the Dodge City office.
This year, Teen Moms kicked off its first “Bundles for Babies” diaper drive. Diaper donations are accepted year round.
At the tender age of 16, one past participant found herself a new mom in a land far from her home in Washington.
Like Teen Moms has for the other members, the program provided the teenager with a strong base – fostered in faith, friendship and guidance – on which she could build her future. Two years later, she was a high school graduate working with at-risk children at Bright Beginnings. She expressed hopes of going to college and becoming an RN.
“Teen Moms helped because I met new people,” she said. “I got to learn more about parenting. Each week there’s a different topic that we’re taught. If you need anything, they help you. That’s nice to know.”