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A peek inside Youville Centre

Youville child care staff in a quiet moment

Youville child care staff in a quiet moment

I recently had the privilege of taking a tour of Youville Centre, as part of the United Way’s Seeing is Believing tour.

Youville is a combination school and child care centre for teen moms. It’s bright, clean and cheerful, and it’s alive with the energy of 48 teenagers and their 50 or so babies and toddlers.

I love what Lara from Gliding Through Motherhood said:

I became a mother at the age of 30. I was married to a wonderful man, owned a house and had an incredible support network with both our sets of parents here in town and willing to help. And, it was hard.

As for me, I was 25 when I tackled the combination of single motherhood and school, and I remember how much commitment and focus and time it took. I remember how impressed I was with myself for just getting it all done, day after day, and for sticking with it year after year. All these years later, I’m still impressed.

So I absolutely bow down to anyone who can manage it all while they’re still a teenager. It’s a phenomenal achievement. As Bob LeDrew so succinctly put it, “I couldn’t even be trusted with my own skin care at fifteen.”

youville_strollerMost teens still need a parent to roust them out of bed each morning – they’re nowhere near ready to be the one doing the rousting. But these teenage women are getting up when the alarm goes off, getting themselves and their babies ready for the day, getting across town on the bus, going to school all day, and spending their evenings and weekends being moms, cooking, cleaning, going to laundromats, paying bills, running households and doing homework.

And, almost invariably, they’re doing it in the quicksand of poverty. Poverty makes everything so much harder. When you have a reasonable income, you can make a lot of problems go away just by throwing money at them. But when you’re poor, those problems just keep piling up and getting worse. Poverty even has a way of transforming things that shouldn’t be problems into problems. A child’s growing feet, for example, are a problem if you can’t afford new shoes.

Youville can’t lift these moms out of poverty, nor can it ensure that they don’t have to deal with the hard choices, limited options, extra work and chronic stress that poverty forces upon people. But it does its best to help them do their best with what they’ve got. A good example of this is the cooking classes, which teach them how to make meals with basic equipment and the kind of food that you get from the Food Bank.

In addition to poverty, teen moms might also be dealing with stigma, social isolation, stress, and just a general lack of the experience and life skills that make managing adult responsibilities easier, as well as the normal challenges of adolescence.

Youville provides child care, high school classes, parenting classes, counseling services, cooking classes, a nutritious breakfast and lunch for both mothers and children, Food Bank services, academic and career counseling, housing support, and help getting into post-secondary education. The moms also benefit from having a peer group and spending their days among friends who can relate to their reality.

Ultimately it’s up to the young women to do the hard work necessary to achieve their educational goals. And most of them do. There’s a wall, at Youville, with photos of all the graduating classes from over the years, and the graduates look absolutely radiant and deservedly proud of everything they’ve accomplished so far.

You can make a donation to the United Way here.

8 comments to A peek inside Youville Centre

  • Nat

    I think it’s really very important to share these sorts of stories. The money raised through United Way helps real people in need.

    Like the rest of you, there is no way I could have handled having a baby as a teen. Heck, I could barely handle The Boy when I had him at 30. Glad these girls have somewhere they can turn to for help.

  • felonius bunk

    it’s interesting to compare your alleged disaster with fictional creation (allowing your subjective dismissal of any possible literary merit) with your literal creation (son), whom you sculpted quite wonderfully into an actual person – but you were so much better prepared for writing!

  • Julia

    I think the whole concept and execution of the Youville Centre is great and I am glad we have it. But shouldn’t as much energy be put into an ounce of prevention centre, where teen girls are taught how not to get pregnant in the first place? I am not talking about the teens who wanted to have a baby. I am talking about those did not intend to get pregnant, those who just wanted some love and affection and it turned into a baby. Not everybody who wants to have sex wants a baby too. I think we need be a lot more open and honest in what we tell our kids about sex and how it leads to babies. And I think we also need to be more honest in taking to them about their feelings about wanting sex and not avoid the truth that sex is great and it feels really good too. Especially when your hormones are raging in the first post-puberty years. Of course, I haven’t been to high school in a really long time so maybe they do talk that way these days. But I doubt it.

  • Nat, I know, motherhood changes EVERYTHING. It’s a huge adjustment.

    Felonius, thank you. He’s still my favourite creation, and always will be.

    Julia, maybe I’m being naive, but I’d be surprised if very many babies came into being these days because of ignorance. I tend to think that girls these days have a lot more information than we did – and we knew where babies came from. They’ve got the internet and everything. I think kids might not have as much access to birth control as they need, or they might take chances because they underestimate the risk of pregnancy. But yes, I agree with you, ideally they would have complete access to information and to birth control at whatever age they want or need it.

  • Hi Zoom – do you think the Youville Centre could benefit from a toy donation? I have LeapFrog learning toys available for donation on my blog — simply leave the name of the organization and they can be considered for the donation. Thanks for sharing the stories of these young women. Julie

  • Thanks Julie, I’ll do that!

  • Zoom – Youville will be receiving those helpful learn-to-read Tag systems! If you have a contact there, pls email me directly. Otherwise, I’ll just call their main line and find the right person for the hand-off. Julie

  • Excellent, thank you so much Julie! I don’t have a personal contact, so the main line’s the way to go.