Teen Moms’ Program Volunteer Appreciation Reception
Mentors, others, honored for devotion to young moms
Slideshow: Click on the photo to enlarge, then click on "view all" at left to see all the thumbnail photos from the event.
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
Several “mentors” and other volunteers with Catholic Social Service Teen Moms’ Program were honored April 28 with an award reception at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dodge City.
Sarah Heeke, who recently completed her first year as a mentor, understands well what the young moms are going through. Heeke was 17 and a senior in high school when she found herself pregnant.
“It’s very scary,” she said. “You suddenly find yourself in the middle of the ocean without a life preserver. You don’t have anything in common with any of your friends because they don’t understand where you are in life. At the same time, you don’t have anything in common with all the moms who have kids your child’s age as they are so much older than you and also are at a different place in their life. Being pregnant as a teenager is such an isolating experience.”
Fortunately, Heeke was introduced to a then-brand new program in the Diocese of Dodge City started by the then-recently hired social worker, Amy Falcon.
The Teen Moms’ Program offers a refuge, a place were young mothers – some as young as 13 – encounter an atmosphere where they are accepted without judgment. It was at once a social group, a support group, with more than an equal dose of education. Each week, the young moms and their adult mentors meet for dinner and a class, covering everything from motherhood, to how to apply for a college, to searching for employment.
Girls in the program must be either in school or employed.
“I always tell Amy that she was my guardian angel,” Heeke said. “She literally saved my life I think. This group is a Godsend. You are able to meet once a week with people who understand who you were, where you were and what you were going through. They were at the same emotional and maturity stage in life.
“It seems as though ‘judgment’ is a word that keeps coming up when these girls talk about being teenage mothers. This group is such a refuge from that, because it was, and still is, a place free of judgment.”
Like other girls in the program, not only does Heeke break the stereotype, but she has been a role model for others in the program. After graduating from community college and then earning a degree at Kansas State University, Heeke went on to graduate from law school. She and her father, attorney Mike Doll, recently began their own law firm.
“When I made the decision to move back to Dodge, I contacted Amy right away and asked how I could be part of this. I truly believe this will leave a life-long impact on me. It already has.”
For Natalie Stella, 23, the evening was bittersweet. After four years in the program, she is “graduating,” which all participants do at age 23.
Like Heeke, Stella too has broken the stereotype so often assigned to young, unwed mothers.
“I was pretty good in school,” she said, modestly. “I had 4.0 grade point average in high school. I’m pretty motivated; that’s why I like being here, because I can kind of motivate the other girls. I think it’s real important for them to listen to what’s being taught.
“This is important!” she said with a broad smile. “You need to listen!”
Ironically, Stella knew Amy Falcon, director of the program, from having worked as a baby sitter for Falcon’s children.
“My mom made me go to the meeting,” Stella admitted. “She thought they would tell me what to do and make me make certain decisions. I wanted to make my own decisions and didn’t want to listen to what others had to say.
“But it wasn’t like that once you actually went. It took me a while to realize Amy wasn’t going to force anything onto you. She shows you all your options. They offer workbooks on different scenarios -- see which way you want to go. They talked about different kinds of adoption. They weren’t pushy. You make the decisions, but you have education behind your decision.”
Like Heeke, Stella found the atmosphere a welcome setting in which the participants truly took to heart Christ’s admonition to “judge not.”
“They were more understanding and wanted to listen and help you out,” she said.
“We do goals every semester,” said the proud mother of three-and-a-half year old Haley. “Mine’s been health related because I just got on my own insurance and am independent. Nothing’s tied to my parents any more. I was scared to go to the dentist or eye doctor because I would have to buy my glasses. My goal this semester was to go to the eye doctor and make a dentist appointment.”
Last year, the 23-year-old achieved another goal, that of becoming a registered nurse.
Falcon, as well as Catholic Social Service Executive Director Debbie Snapp, offered their appreciation for all those involved with the program, including several people who provide free meals to the girls at their weekly meetings.
Prior to digging into a large cake, participants were presented awards of thanks by Falcon, who herself was then given a large round of applause.