August 20, 2019

New Life for Teen-Parent Mentoring Program

Doula Teen Parent Program is now Generations Ahead
By Ross Boissoneau | June 1, 2019

It’s a truism that no matter how hard one might try, no one is ever completely prepared to be a parent. The challenges for those who are still in school are even more daunting. Trying to keep up with studies while caring for a newborn can be overwhelming.
 
That’s where Kay Epple comes in. “I’m not a therapist,” said Epple. Nor does she provide day care or financial support. She is one of a number of volunteer mentors who help these young parents through Generations Ahead. “I help them be the best parent they can be, and keep them focused on school,” she said.
 
Generations Ahead, formerly known as the Doula Teen Parent Program, works with those who have children while they are still teenagers. Marjie Rich is the director of the program, which is housed at Traverse City High School but is funded wholly by donations and grants. “Our clients are teen parents, both moms and dads,” said Rich.
 
The staff is small. Just two, actually: Rich is the director and Alison Woytowich is a social worker. Together with the mentors they try to bring a sense of normalcy and provide support and motivation.
 
The Women’s Resource Center used to sponsor the organization, but three years ago determined it didn’t really fit with its mission. Traverse City Area Public Schools offered to house the program but said it could not financially support it. Rich said local donors stepped up, including Rotary Charities, which said it would support the organization for three years, then reevaluate where thing stood.
 
Rich said the goals of the program are to help the students complete high school and then help them find work, job training or post-secondary education, all while raising healthy, happy children. The organization offers a number of services, from the mentorships to peer group meetings, home visits, even assistance with supplies like diapers and wipes, clothing or help with expenses such as gas cards to make sure they can get back and forth from home to school. Sometimes it’s just the fact that Rich, Woytowich and the mentors provide a safe space for the clients to come and talk.
 
Rich said often times the living situation is precarious. They may be couch surfing after being kicked out of their homes when they got pregnant, or be living in a home where substance abuse or other untoward circumstances make it challenging to bring up their baby while also attending school or working.
 
That’s where Generations Ahead comes in. Rich provided one example of a 16-year-old who was kicked out of her home when pregnant. “She lived with her boyfriend and his family in Fife Lake and drove in (to Traverse City) every day to school. She’s graduating on time with high marks,” Rich said.
 
Another also lived with her boyfriend and his parents, where she was welcome but didn’t feel comfortable. Rich said the dad’s father was an alcoholic, and the mom felt trapped in her bedroom when her boyfriend was at work. Nevertheless, she also graduated and then worked for a year, allowing the couple and their child to move to their own home. She’s now attending Northwestern Michigan College, and her four-year-old is enrolled in Head Start.
 
That’s also an example of how Generations Ahead works with other organizations. In addition to the schools, it works with the health department and other social service agencies.
 
Brandie Almendarez and her daughter Celeste are part of the program. She credited Generations Ahead with helping in a number of ways, from material things to simply an opportunity to connect with someone who has had children and can offer advice and support. “What I like is being able to talk about anything. And activities — we went to get pictures with the Easter Bunny. We wouldn’t have gone if that hadn’t been offered.
 
“We went to the library over spring break,” Almendarez continued. “They had puppets, toys and books. I took my nephews for kids’ activities — they’re a little older. I read to them,” she said.
 
Woytowich nodded in agreement. “Reading is so important,” she said.
 
A number of the clients attend Traverse City High School, not only because that is where Generations Ahead is located, but because there is a day care in-house. However, that is not a prerequisite for being in the program. Almendarez is actually working on getting her GED.
 
For Epple, the chance to help young moms like Almendarez is very rewarding. “I’ve been doing it five or six years,” she said. During that time she’s had five clients, each for approximately a year. “That gives me time to get to know them. I loved being a fulltime mom, and it’s fun to help them find their way.”
 
Currently the organization is supporting 10 parents. Rich is hoping to expand the pool of mentors. If you’re interested, you can visit its website, www.generationsahead.org, or contact Rich at info@generationsahead.org.

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