What happens when a teenager learns she is pregnant, as did over 4,500 girls in Orange County in 2011?
If she is lucky, her family will work through their shock and anger and continue to stand beside her as she chooses from her options: parenting, adoption or abortion. Unfortunately, many girls are not so lucky. She may be living in an impoverished family, even homeless, where her parents pressure her to have an abortion against her wishes because they cannot “afford” another mouth to feed. Or she may never have known her father, her mother is incarcerated or deceased, and the relative or foster family where she is living tells her she can’t stay if she is pregnant and has a baby.
Does she really have a “choice?”
This is where Mary’s Shelter comes in. The members of a prayer group opened this faith-based program in Central Orange County in 1994 to make it possible for pregnant teens choosing life for their babies to actually do so, even if they lacked adequate family support. Since then, over 1,000 girls and their babies have had a healthy start in life and were given the building blocks for successful independent lives.
For 21 years, girls in these situations – good girls who have experienced poverty, abuse, and abandonment – have been welcomed into the two lovely homes built for them by HomeAid Orange County in 1997 and 1998. The caring staff supervises and assists as many as 18 teen mothers plus twelve of their babies on a 24/7 basis, every day of the year. Through services designed for pregnant and parenting minors, Mary’s Shelter strives to break the negative cycle typical of teen pregnancy.
Mary’s Shelter provides a safe living environment, good nutrition, and quality pre-natal care to promote the delivery of a healthy baby, while national statistics show that babies born to teen mothers have a 50% higher infant mortality rate than babies born to adult women. The healthy birth outcomes at Mary’s Shelter far exceed national norms.
Mary’s Shelter emphasizes the early childhood development of the infants and toddlers of teen mothers, and obtains developmental assessments to make sure any necessary interventions take place early. At the same time, teen mothers, most of whom have not had positive role models as parents, attend parenting classes, receive individualized coaching and weekly parenting goals from the Parenting Coordinator, and get help taking care of their babies 24 hours a day by our attentive staff. All of this is to assure that the cycle of child abuse and neglect will not be repeated in the next generation.
Mary’s Shelter also addresses the third challenge of teen pregnancy – poverty – by emphasizing high school completion. Nationally, about 40% of girls who have a baby as a teenager never complete high school. Case managers and volunteer tutors at Mary’s Shelter help teen mothers progress with their school work while our staff provides child care for their children. When a teen mother nears high school completion and emancipation as an adult, she receives a career assessment and assistance applying for college and scholarships, as well as transitional housing for herself and her child.
Thanks to the committed support of HomeAid Orange County, hundreds of individuals, local companies, civic groups, and churches of various denominations, Mary’s Shelter continues to serve this vulnerable portion of our community, teen mothers and their babies – two at a time – in ways that will last a lifetime. Thanks be to God!
Engage your place of worship in ending homelessness and get involved in service outreach through HomeAid Orange County.
HomeAid has been ending homelessness with Mary’s Shelter since 1997, by developing two homes that added 21 beds for homeless pregnant teenage girls. Mary’s Shelter programs are also a recipient of HomeAid Essentials donations and community outreach activities.