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.”
Most 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.