A peek into the average high schooler’s schedule is a peek into the eye of chaos.
In addition to being enrolled in seven different courses each with their own assignments, exams and special projects, students also participate in after-school organizations or athletics; they volunteer or take on a part time job, eke out quality time with the family and attempt to maintain a social life. Oh and if there’s any time left, they attempt to get the 8-10 hours of sleep the National Sleep Foundation deems necessary for healthy development.
Now, imagine scheduling an array of pre-natal appointments and adding the stressors of pregnancy to this already packed schedule.
That was a reality for almost 700 Palm Beach County teenagers in 2013.
Teen childbearing costs U.S. taxpayers approximately $9.4 billion annually in health care, foster care, incarceration and lost tax revenue. The issue is cyclical and teen parents often beget more teen parents.
Organizations like Teen Outreach Program are committed to educating and empowering teenagers in the hopes of lowering teen pregnancy rates and breaking the cycle of poverty that often accompanies teen pregnancies.
TOP facilitator Rosana Vargas has dedicated herself to this mission and to connecting the community to further empower teens.
As May was National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, Rosana spent a great deal of time talking to her club about pregnancy prevention – everything from how to deal with peer pressure to the dangers of unprotected sex.
“We survey the community and focus on the issues in the area,” Rosana explained. “Teen pregnancy was a big one.”
This conversation led to a brainstorm. It’s one thing to educate teens about pregnancy prevention but what happens when a teenager finds herself pregnant?
“We decided to host a shower to honor the new life coming into the world,” Rosana said. “There’s no shunning. There’s no shaming. We give advice. We’re there for the family and we want them to know that they have hope.”
The response to this idea was overwhelmingly positive and the club got to work immediately. They connected with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies and arranged a baby shower for eight teen mothers who were either pregnant or had recently given birth.
“We took the girls to Wal-mart to shop for essentials, “Rosana said. “You know, diapers and formula and wipes.”
The experience hit home for sophomore Mimi Irizarry.
“It was expensive!” she exclaimed. “My mom was a teen mom and I’ve got a lot of respect for these girls. I’ve seen a lot of struggles with bills. There were nights when my mom went to bed hungry just so we could eat. She’s my hero.”
In addition to the items provided by TOP, Community Partners Supportive Housing Program Director Tracy Speranza donated onesies and Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies donated items from their emergency pantry.
“Surprising the girls was the best part,” said sophomore Keyla Abreu. “I really liked having time to share with them and letting them know that someone’s there.”
Even though they played shower games and ate cake, the focus of the shower remained on supporting these young parents and at the end of the event, every mother and mother-to-be went home with a beautifully packaged gift basket filled with essential items as well as thoughtful gifts.
“We want to make sure they know they’re not alone,” Keyla said. “Being a mom is hard!”