Showing Teen Moms A Better Life
by Jackie Alvarez
Three years ago at a MOPS meeting, Jen Scholz’s life changed forever — and that’s saying a lot for this mom. Tears streamed down her face as the guest speaker, Helen Turley, showed photos and told stories of the homeless teen moms who were a part of the Teen MOPS group at a local Salvation Army shelter. She was instantly reminded of her life, ten years prior, as a young, single mom stuck in domestic abuse and alone with her baby.
After the presentation, Jen introduced herself to Helen, who invited her to come and shadow a Teen MOPS meeting. Jen started working with the group immediately. And last year when Helen relocated back to England, Jen took over leading the group.
Teen Moms Choose a Better Life
The Salvation Army in Syracuse has a special housing program for homeless teenagers who are pregnant, already mothering or are at high risk for teen pregnancy. Each teen is given a room to live in with her baby and resources to meet most of her physical and practical needs.
Many of the girls are homeless, addicted to drugs and alcohol, and are ultimately products of abuse and dysfunctional families. But when they move in, they’re making a choice for a better life, agreeing to the strict rules, abstaining from substance use and finishing their education.
The Teen MOPS group meets twice a month. While the girls are not required to attend, all 21 girls in residence show up for meetings. The leaders follow the model that most MOPS groups use and cover many of the normal parenting topics. But they also delve into conversations about healing from and ending cycles of abuse.
Jen and her leadership partner, Katie Morgan, often share their life experiences and mothering stories during meetings, but never have received much response from the girls. So in an end-of-year survey, they were shocked to read that was the favorite part of the group for these teen moms.
Both Katie and Jen started out as single moms. And both of their stories eventually included a husband and stability. However, the father of Jen’s baby was incarcerated, and when her little one was 2-years-old, Jen was introduced to God, the church and eventually MOPS through a neighbor.
Jen still remembers the first time she went to a MOPS group. She sat there with her messy story that only recently included recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. She assumed all the other moms were married with perfect lives and would judge her as a single mom. But it’s her experiences with abuse and her constant worry about where she would get the money to buy milk that help her relate to these teen moms who often feel their inadequacies and assume they’re being judged.
When asked about the unique needs of the teen moms at the shelter, Jen said, “Love.” Through tears she explains, “I know it’s true because when you hug them, they don’t let go. For some of the girls, it’s the only time anyone’s ever hugged them like that — appropriately, out of love.”
Born from Tragedy: Fowler High School Teen MOPS
Last November, one of the teen moms was trying to take her 20-month-old son to visit his father. This girl’s story includes a drug-addicted mother and no father of her own. “She was trying to make a better life for her baby, choosing to live in the shelter, going to school and trying to keep the baby’s dad included,” Jen said. “The dad is involved with a local gang and to get to him, she had to drive through a bad neighborhood. The minivan she was in drove right into a shooting, and her baby took a fatal bullet.”
After her baby died, the Salvation Army and her Teen MOPS group rallied to support her, but she was overwhelmed with emotion. It was hard to be around all the other girls who still had their babies, and eventually she ended up back on the street. But she told Jen she knew of a lot of other teen moms at her high school who could use support.
The day of the baby’s funeral, Jen resolved to reach out to these other teen moms and made her first phone call to the school administration asking to start a Teen MOPS program there. After persuading the school administration for several months, Jen and Katie were finally allowed to start a Teen MOPS group in the high school to help support the 32 already identified pregnant and mothering teens.
The group at Fowler High School meets every Tuesday during the school year and provides lunch for the moms. Jen says the girls in the Teen MOPS group at Fowler are different from those at the Salvation Army, because “they’re less battered” since they haven’t had to fend for themselves on the street. But they still have hard lives at home and face many of the same trust issues.
Both the Salvation Army and Fowler High School are located in neighborhoods infiltrated with drug abuse, poverty and gangs. And girls in both groups come with evidence of their environments.
Jen says in addition to love, teen moms need to hear that someone believes in them, “Their eyes light up like nothing I’ve ever seen when I tell them I believe in them and encourage them that I mean it.”
Jen and Katie have been overwhelmed with encouragement as they’ve watched teen moms make better choices and begin to believe that they are loved. They’ve seen firsthand how better moms do make a better world. In May, the Teen MOPS Group at the homeless shelter was given a Can Do Award from the Salvation Army for their positive vision and attitude. And after only the first couple of meetings last spring, school administrators asked about starting Teen MOPS groups at all of the city high schools.
While the teen moms have often felt betrayed, Jen knows how important it is to have someone in their lives who will show up when they say they will. She’s honored to be the person they’re learning to trust. She encourages others who want to work with teen moms, “Just because you haven’t walked in their shoes doesn’t mean you can’t impact their lives. They just need someone to love them and believe in them.”
Jackie Alvarez is the editorial coordinator at MOPS International. She lives in Colorado and enjoys snow-boarding, watching movies, seeking out good music and engaging in conversations about faith.