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I’m a teen mom with a future

October is Respect Life Month. The following testimonial was adapted from a paper written for a senior class high school assignment in March. Erika Leon is now 19 and a student at the Colorado Institute of Art. Her daughter Sofia is 3.

It’s 3 a.m. and I am in a deep sleep, but I hear cries growing louder and louder. It’s my daughter Sofia. I feel so tired. The thought about getting up in three more hours to go to school isn’t helping. I pick her up and start feeding her and she calms down. As I hold her she looks straight into my eyes and I look into hers, then I remember that she is my inspiration to keep going. She is the reason for me to stay strong.

Many teen mothers struggle to balance work, school and parenting. Due to a lack of support, many teen mothers drop out of school. Organizations like the Denver Archdiocese’s Gabriel House offer needed help to young and single mothers. It is critical for families, society and schools to support teen mothers by giving them the right tools, so they can better themselves and their lives.

Drop-outs and finances

The average drop-out can expect $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate and $36,424 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree. For the last 20 years in Colorado, just 75 percent of high school students graduated. Teen mothers graduated at an even lower rate.

Teen pregnancy is a major reason for school drop-outs, according to a report by the nonprofit National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The report notes, “nearly one-third of teen girls who have dropped out of high school cite early pregnancy or parenthood as a key reason.”  Just 40 percent of teen moms finish high school.

When I told my parents I was going to have a baby around the same time I would turn 16, they were shocked and disappointed. However, in about a week, they became very supportive and helped me face my new reality.   Because of their help, I knew that I was going to continue my education and provide the best for my daughter.

Family and Church support

Because of the strong support from my family and their beliefs, I was fortunate enough to get the help I needed to continue with my education. Unfortunately, my coworker Alex, was not that lucky. She would call in to work constantly to say she couldn’t come in because she couldn’t find anyone to take care of her son. She was always struggling to find a place to call home. Her sons’ father was in jail and she didn’t get along with her mother, so she was on her own.

The Gabriel House is a Catholic outreach program committed to supporting pregnant women, single mothers, and children up to the age of 5 who are in need of resources. The mission of Gabriel House is to “provide basic living necessities, along with health/hygiene and social services, baby supplies, spiritual support and emotional support,” according to executive director Mimi Eckstein. The Gabriel House provides friendship and encouragement to women throughout their pregnancy and afterward. According to Eckstein, it helps with “baby items, health care, referral, adoption referral, friendship and prayer; and when necessary (Gabriel House) can also refer those in need to other community resources and public assistance programs.”

Eight-month pregnant Crystal told Eckstein, “Sometimes I like to just come and sit (here).”

Single mother Anna asked for prayers and the “angels” – Gabriel House volunteers – provided them. Anna then felt “there was a glimmer of hope.” The experience for Anna is that Gabriel House is a place of open doors and open hearts. Gabriel House also referred her to a professional counselor, who works with her on a weekly basis.

The future with hope

As a teen mother, I struggled to balance being a mom, going to school, and working, but with support from my family, school and Church, I am succeeding. Having support has helped me to prosper. Sofia turned 3 in August. She sees what I do and learns from it. When I get ready to go to school, she quickly runs to her room and grabs her Dora the Explorer backpack and walks toward me. I tell her she can’t come with me and she just looks at me and wonders when she will be able to go to school like mommy.

Roxanne King
Roxanne King is the former editor of the Denver Catholic Register and a freelance writer in the Denver area.
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