The young single mothers who end up in the program come from a wide variety of backgrounds: from “major, intense dysfunction” to “really bad choices that change their lives forever.” Part of the mission of Mom’s House is to help the teen moms break the cycle of poverty.
“We have ‘wraparound’ services: we help the mom, we help the child. We teach the mom how to be a good parent,” said Ms. Rodríguez. “Many of the girls have not had examples in their life. They have not had people in their life show them what to do, not just as a parent, but someone in our community who needs to learn how to make good choices and good decisions.”
The Mom’s House director stated many of the young single moms see family dysfunction as ‘normal’ because it’s the only thing they know or have seen. Conversations with other women in their families—aunts, grandparents, and others—lead them to believe abusive relationships are okay. One aunt even told a client that ‘Sometimes you have to take one good one.’
“That’s not normal,” Ms. Rodríguez emphasized. “Within that family it is, but that’s not normal.”
The lessons even extend to public assistance and the stereotype that comes from a multi-generational cycle of reliance on welfare, food stamps, and other aid.
“We teach these young ladies that yes, sometimes you do have to have help,” she said. “But there’s a way to use it, as a transitional time in your life. Our goal is to take them from being tax consumers to tax producers.”
Ms. Rodríguez smiles when she talks about the success stories within the program. The young single mothers are only allowed to stay in the program until their children reach kindergarten, which can be as long as five years. Within that time frame, many of the clients have earned a GED, gone to college, and even found employment. Mom’s House has even graduated one PhD and two master’s degrees over the last three years.
“We have so many success stories of these young ladies being the first in their family off the system, the first to graduate high school, the first to go to college,” she said. “Because they are starting to be educated and understanding what their value is and their future can be so bright. A piece of paper—a high school diploma, a college degree—those will help them later in life. But changing what’s on the inside and the mindset that they have is the key.”
Mom’s House provides a temporary support system—child care, counseling, educational guidance, but Ms. Rodríguez emphasized the young moms are encouraged to identify a more permanent support system that will help them to “stand on their own the rest of their lives.”
Lucas County has the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate in Ohio, so there’s always a waiting list of 30-50 teen moms. Each client spends an average of three years in the program—long enough to make “sustainable change” in their lives.
“That gives us plenty of time to just get in there and dig into their lives,” she said.
One client came to Mom’s House as a high school senior, her child just six weeks old. Over the course of time, she graduated high school, completed a nursing degree and was hired at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center. She bought a new car, a house, and got married, then had a second child. Her husband adopted her youngest son. Now the former client is writing a donation check back to the agency that helped her.
“That right there is breaking the cycle,” Ms. Rodríguez. “People can say what they want about the welfare system and young girls having babies. But we’re changing their lives and not only that, that’s one person who’s not on the system and not affecting our tax dollars.”
One young Latina mom named Mariah, in particular, holds a special place in Ms. Rodríguez’s heart. After enrolling at Mom’s House, Mariah graduated from Woodward High School and now attends Owens Community College. Her daughter is just shy of three years old.
“She’s a shy young lady who just has huge dreams,” she said. “But she really didn’t know how to dream and we helped her to find it. She’s a committed young lady—on time all the time, does whatever it takes to make sure she’s a good mother”
Mariah is one of several who participate in the Adopt-a-Mom program—where a donor is directly connected to a mother and child and receives progress reports. Ms. Rodríguez recounted a recent meeting between a female donor—a mom herself—and Mariah at Mom’s House. The two have grown close and plan a trip to the zoo over the summer.
“They get to see what a different culture is to them,” she said. “In their life, they may have grown up not seeing that type of stability and people who believe in them. That’s one of the things that resound so loudly with our girls.”
Mariah told Mom’s House staffers that graduating high school was never emphasized in her family—and Ms. Rodríguez stated that is a bigger problem within the Latino culture. So Mariah also is the first in her family to attend college.
“That’s a big deal for her family. Not just her family, but for us, and the future of her daughter,” said Ms. Rodríguez. “We’re very proud of her. She’s an amazing young lady who’s very resilient. She was also going through some stuff in her own house, with her own family.”
Over time, Mom’s House has helped over 200 moms overall, with 100-plus graduating either high school or college. The nonprofit relied solely on private donations and grants until recently. The program now receives child care stipends through the Ohio Dept. of Job and Family Services to help make ends meet in a poor economy. So Mom’s Nite Out will become one of its major fundraisers. The young single moms get a chance to meet donors directly.
“That’s a huge, huge deal to them,” said Ms. Rodríguez. “Some of the moms wonder ‘Why does someone who doesn’t even know us support us the way that they do?’ It’s a great opportunity for them. It’s also an opportunity for our donors to come and just show their support to us.”
The gala fundraiser is traditionally held on Mother’s Day weekend. This year’s event will be Friday, May 11, 2012, 7 p.m., at The Pinnacle in Maumee. The 19th annual event will include a silent auction. The evening’s honoree will be Ohio Supreme Court Justice Yvette McGee-Brown, who was born to a 16-year old mom.
Justice McGee-Brown once toured Mom’s House and met with some of the low-income student mothers to share her story.
“She’s an amazing speaker, and one of the things she told them is ‘I am your daughter. Your child can be anything they want to be,’” recalled Ms. Rodríguez. “’Go after your dreams and learn to be a parent.’”
The teen moms get to dress up for the event. Gowns are donated and a salon offers its services free of charge to do their hair and makeup.
For more information, contact Christina Rodríguez at 419.241.5554.
On the Internet: www.momshousetoledo.org