04/02/13 — 'Young Moms Connect' helps teen mothers cope

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'Young Moms Connect' helps teen mothers cope

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 2, 2013 1:46 PM

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Kiesha Cousar, center, president of Cousar Empowerment Institute, forms a circle with students at Southern Wayne High School as part of an exercise wrapping up a series of workshops held at the school over the past month. The sessions were made possible through a grant received by Partnership for Children of Wayne County, which introduced the Young Moms Connect programs at Southern Wayne and Goldsboro high schools for new and expectant mothers.

Don't go by the supermarket tabloids -- being a teen mom is not glamorous.

Just ask some who unexpectedly found themselves going through it.

"I didn't think I was going to be in the situation, but I am," said Jaquetta Chamblee, 18, a senior at Southern Wayne High School with a 2-year-old daughter. "It's eye-opening to my friends and everybody.

"At the beginning, it was like a struggle. My family turned on me since I was so young."

Classmate Angelia Anderson, 18, just gave birth to a daughter two months ago.

"I knew I was going to keep going to school because I'm going to college," she said. "It's kind of hard, but it's good. The hardest part is getting up in the morning early."

Vanisha Dixon, 18, the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, battled guilt.

"I just feel like I let my mom down, my pastor," she said. "That made me feel kind of bad, knowing I was young and getting pregnant.

"But that didn't stop me from going to school."

She said she was blessed to have a supportive mother, as well as the added presence of the baby's father.

"He still helps," she said. "I was fortunate. For me, it's not as hard as it could be but at the same time, I still struggle.

"I have a job and support her. But I wouldn't trade her for anything in the world."

Starla Stokes, a 19-year-old senior, is pregnant now. She said she plans to go to college, but will have to delay it at least a semester, since her due date is in late September.

"I want to go into paralegal and possibly work my way up to be a lawyer," she said.

The road to this point, though, has been admittedly bumpy.

There were problems at home, which escalated when she discovered she was pregnant. She said she was kicked out of her house but was taken in by her fiancé and his family.

One thing that helped was discovering Young Moms Connect, a program for new and expectant moms, introduced last year by Wayne Partnership for Children at Southern Wayne and Goldsboro high schools. A support group of sorts, it is designed to give teens the tools to become better parents.

This past month, a grant allowed the Partnership to provide supplemental training that focused on goal-setting and self-esteem, two issues that teens, and especially teen mothers, struggle with.

Kiesha Cousar, a 1991 graduate of Rosewood High School and now president of Cousar Empowerment Institute in Raleigh, led the series of workshops.

And last Wednesday was graduation day.

She shared parting words about some of the tools they had acquired.

"Hopefully, you have made a mindset shift of what you want to do with your life," she said.

Gathering the students into a circle, she stood in the center, symbolizing unity. Then she stepped out, representing her departure, and encouraged them to keep the support going for one another.

"This is your community, this is your family now, your additional family," she said.

Cassie Kermode, who directs the Young Moms Connect program for the Partnership, said it had been inspiring to watch the group evolve over recent weeks.

"These girls didn't know each other before and now it's like we're building this group and what we're going to do is try to continue building sort of a young moms youth group," she said.

Self-esteem certainly had been an issue Miss Dixon related to, she said.

"It's just good to know there are more people going through the same things as you. We're all different but we all share the same story," she said.

And while there may be struggles still ahead, she takes away a valuable lesson from the support group.

"That I value myself," she said. "No matter what people say, I will always be me. I can't change what happened, I can only make my life better."

"The things that I needed to hear were how much of a value we all are," added Miss Stokes. "Some of us have been through the same things. Just knowing who we can turn to and who we can talk to."

Miss Chamblee said her own experience has taught her lessons she continues to share with others, and will surely pass on to her own daughter.

"I'm going to better myself for her," said the senior, who plans to study criminal justice or counseling in college. "I know how to teach my daughter how to value herself or whatever.

"I want her to finish school and reach her goals. I just want to teach her not to have a baby so young."