YoungMoms: Continuing to provide direction, inspiration
By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
At first, Marina was lost.
She was 16 years old, pregnant and overwhelmed by a series of questions she was asking herself that had no easy answers. How am I going to finish high school? How am I going to afford child care, and clothing and supplies? How am I going to prepare to be a young mother?
Eventually, Marina was led to YoungMoms, a Kennett Square-based nonprofit organization that provides individual and group support services to teenage mothers throughout southern Chester County. Through the work of mentors, case managers, staff and volunteers, YoungMoms guides teenage mothers – at no cost – through obstacles, while helping them to graduate from school, find employment, learn parenting skills and gain valuable life skills. Today, with the help of her mentor Marianne, Marina graduated from high school and now works full time in the insurance industry.
The success stories that come out of YoungMoms do not end there.
In 2015, Nicole was a struggling young mother and a college student who was faced with job and financial instability. Soon after she arrived at YoungMoms, she was paired with her mentor Shari as well as a case manager, who helped Nicole get ahead of her financial challenges, as well as find employment, create a resume, polish her interviewing skills. Eventually, she worked with Shari to prepare for her medical assistant exam.
Nicole now works full time at a hospital.
Since its beginning in 2010, the organization, in alliance with several other area nonprofit groups, has given close to 200 of young mothers like Marina and Nicole the tools they need to stay in school, pursue college or vocational training, parent more effectively and make sound financial decisions.
On March 7, a few of these success stories will be shared at the YoungMoms annual brunch and silent auction, which will be held at the Willowdale Chapel in Kennett Square. Last year, the event drew more than 250 guests and raised more than $30,000. Together with contributions from the United Way, corporate and foundational grants and private donations, the event helps to pay for programming, education and development and case management services.
“While we’re certainly looking to raise funding at our annual event, we’re also looking to raise awareness of and interest in the organization,” said Molly Henry, YoungMoms’ communications and development coordinator. “It’s a great platform to showcase and celebrate the stories of the young mothers who have been impacted by the work of YoungMoms.
“This event gives people a sense of who we are and what we do. It generates a lot of buy-in and volunteers, who connect with us as we move our mission forward.”
At YoungMoms, each program participant sets wide-reaching academic, employment, parenting and life goals, all of which are nurtured by the resources and people available at the organization to accomplish them. Typically, young mothers remain in the program between two and four years – enough time to allow them to steadily progress towards self-sufficiency.
“It’s the only way to effectively help that young woman approach her future and create a more stable environment for her family,” said YoungMoms Executive Director Linda Mercner. “The gift of being able to work with them for two- to four-year periods allows us to establish those trusting relationships, know when the bumps occur, and help them navigate so that they begin to know how to advocate for themselves.
“Knowing the feeling that you are valued, and that there are many people here who want to invest their time in you, is very empowering.”
“Almost immediately, these young moms gain a sense that this is not a place where they will be judged, and very often, we meet in group settings, which allows an opportunity for everyone to bond around their similar experiences, to allow them to belong to a community of their peers that builds their confidence and their self-esteem,” Henry said.
“It can be very isolating being a new mother, and when you combine that with being a teenager who often is from circumstances where she isn’t receiving a lot of support, it is even more isolating. Here, they see that there are many people who keep showing up for them, which leads to empowerment and then to success.”
Too often, trauma, depression and anxiety serve as a triple-threat detractor in the progress a young mother makes along her journey. In fact, studies have indicated that teen moms are more than twice as likely to suffer from postpartum depression than older mothers. It’s a startling statistic, but one that YoungMoms meets head on, by utilizing emergency funds for young mothers who seek personal counseling, and holding special Club Nights on the topic.
At a recent training session held at the Willowdale Chapel, clinical psychologist Dr. Dani Parsell gave staff and volunteers an in-depth look at the impact of depression/anxiety on teen moms, how to recognize symptoms, and resources available to assist those who are struggling.
While YoungMoms has firmly established a foothold in the Kennett area, its reach now extends to the Oxford community, where mentors and staff hold Club Nights for teenage mothers. Not only is YoungMoms expanding geographically, the stories of the young women who benefit from their services have become more global.
“We’re also seeing a lot of young women coming to us from crisis situations in Central America, such as Guatemala,” Henry said. “Their backgrounds require a whole different scope of need, because they’re not only coming to us as young mothers, they’re often arriving with almost no resources and no ability to speak the English language.
“We are continually amazed that these women, despite their experiences, are working seven days a week here, often living in very challenging conditions, and are still the most phenomenal mothers who are doing everything they can to help their children have a better life,” Henry said.
Perhaps the clearest evidence pointing to the impact that YoungMoms has had on the community is in the faces of some of its many volunteers and mentors: They are the young mothers who received support and guidance from their mentors at YoungMoms, and now wish to pass it along to others.
“Our goal has always been to grow in terms of being able to increase the amount and depth and quality of our services, and we continue to grow slowly and sustainably,” Henry said. “If we continue to do our job well, a young mother will tell another young mother about how YoungMoms has helped her along in her journey.”
YoungMoms is looking for mentors throughout Southern Chester County to work with young mothers. For information, e mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
YoungMoms is located at 111 Marshall Street, in Kennett Square. Phone: (855) 964-6667. To learn more, visit www.youngmomscommunity.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.
YoungMoms Annual Fundraising Brunch & Silent Auction
March 7, 2020, beginning at 10:30 a.m.
Willowdale Chapel, 675 Unionville Rd., Kennett Square, Pa.
$30 tickets can be purchased by visiting www.youngmomscommunity.com, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets will be available until Feb. 25.