Young Life youth group, a strong presence in the Lake Highlands area, promotes a nondenominational, faith-based message via social activities. An offshoot called YoungLives is tailored to address the various challenges teens face when they become parents.
At Lake Highlands High School, girls who are pregnant or who have given birth are encouraged to take an elective class called Life Skills. On Valentine’s Day 2013, Lake Highlands resident and mom Anne Beller visited the class. She offered pizza and an invitation to join Young Lives.
“I knew it was happening in other cities,” Beller says. “I thought, why not here?”
On that first day, Beller felt painfully aware of having very little in common with the girls, other than the fact that they were all moms. “But it was amazing how much we did have in common,” she says. “We were just chatting and sharing labor stories.”
Unlike adult parents who connect at the local playground or early childhood PTA organizations, teens often are isolated and without transportation. “The reality is, many of them aren’t at the school anymore,” Beller says. “Lots of them have gone non-traditional. They do everything online; it’s like night school.” Typically the mother will spend the day with her baby, and then when a family member comes home later, the girl attends classes virtually from 4-6 p.m.
Though the teen parents are not all enrolled in Lake Highlands schools, Lake Highlands YoungLives has managed to reach and involve a diverse group throughout the community, Beller says. Many of them are in dire need of both emotional and practical support.
Some of the girls have been assaulted. Some are going through legal battles, Beller explains. “One of them is involved in a custody battle with her assaulter.” And there are others — Burmese immigrants, for example — whose culture encourages them to marry older men at a very young age. They are teenagers but they live in traditional households with their husbands. “They’re not playing house,” Beller says. “They are raising a family. It just starts a lot earlier.”
In YoungLives, each teen mom is matched with a mentor-mom who commits to becoming a significant part of the girl’s life. Like the teens, the mentor-moms come from a diverse pool. “I’ve got one mentor-mom that’s 25, married with no children, and another who is 65 with ten grandchildren — and everything in between,” Beller says.
She explains what mentor-moms do, and just as important, what they don’t do:
“Our goal is to build a relationship and be moms together. Talk to her at least once a week.” Most of the girls don’t have a car, so mentor-moms keep extra car seats in their vehicles so that they can pick up mom and baby for club meetings, which are held every other Wednesday.
That said, Beller continues, “They are not our projects.”
Regarding a girl she mentors, she explains, “I’m not trying to fix her. I can’t make her problems go away. My role is to love her and support her and answer my phone when she calls, and pick her up if she needs to be somewhere. And to set boundaries and tell her if she’s being inappropriate [example: language] around my kids.”
So what does this group of teens, moms, grandmas and babies do when they get together?
One time they had a scrapbooking session. Once, they visited the Arboretum, where a volunteer photographed moms and babies. Later mentors presented each girl with the framed photo for Mother’s Day.
Recently they discussed family traditions.
“Whether it’s something you do on Christmas morning, or maybe the way you celebrate birthdays, the idea was to give them a vision for doing family with intention,” Beller says. “Because they did not get pregnant intentionally. And so now they’re in survival mode. They do very little intentionally. It’s reactionary.
“But we tell them, ‘You’re a mom now. It’s your family. You get to choose.’”