Sometimes I get frustrated, said 20-year-old Bridget, a student at Eastern Oregon University.
Bridget is more than a student; shes a mom with a 9-month-old daughter, Dezirae. She and several other young parents gather weekly for a support group thats administered through Shelter From the Storm.
Some teachers are supportive, she said during a recent session. Others look down and make snide remarks. They think its a joke, but its not funny.
Maybe it wasnt the wisest choice, but Im dealing with it.
The stigma surrounding young mothers may not be the most difficult load many of them must bear, but remarks that are perceived to be unkind make raising a child even more difficult.
People automatically assume youre single, said Leslie, 20, who is married, has two children and works full time. Id heard people say, Isnt it hard being a single mom? Thats stereotyping.
Sara feels even more stigma.
People think Im a slut, she said.
Sara, 18, has a 10-month-old son, Scott. Although unkind or thoughtless remarks hurt, they appear among the least of her day-to-day worries. Sara, who is divorced, is looking for a job, looking for child care, and trying to figure out a way to get her car fixed.
Things were going great, and then my car died, she said.
Sara, who is a high school student through the Union-Baker Education Service District, hopes to receive a diploma by the end of June. Shed like to have a job, but she doesnt have child care, and now she has no functioning vehicle.
Bridget is lucky. She has a partner to help with child care and other chores, and Easterns distance learning program allows her to take some classes at home.
Either Im home or hes home, Bridget said.
Child care is a major issue for most young parents.
Its hard to find somebody you can trust, said Heidi, 19, a student through ESD. Her fiance helps with their son, Nathan, who celebrated his first birthday May 15.
Heidi does her school work at home and when shes at work, her fiances parents help.
Leslie takes her infant son to her job as a Vista volunteer in public health.
A lady from my church takes care of my daughter, she said. It took a long time to find somebody.
Chris, 19, and his partner Randi, 18, are students through the Training and Employment Consortium. They have a son, Dakota, 17 months, and they are expecting their second child in September.
They get some child care help from Chriss parents and Randis sister. But they have a lot of hurdles. Transportation is a big one. Randi and Chris have no car. They cant afford to buy a vehicle, and they cannot afford the required insurance.
You cant get credit, Chris said. Our biggest problem is buying a vehicle.
Some talked about the day-to-day struggles of being responsible for a baby. This is my social life, Sara said. Its just about the only time I get out.
The Shelter group leaders provide dinner, free prizes and transportation for the group members. Some weeks as many as 10 young parents join the group. Once, 15 parents and 13 babies arrived. At other times only five or six will gather in the shelter living room and talk or listen to information.
Of the people who gathered one evening recently, most are living with their partners and many plan a life that includes education and stable employment.
Hazuki, 21, is married and living in La Grande while her husband attends college. Eventually, she expects to return to Japan. She has made friends in the group and learned English from the other members.
We have a group of regulars, Bridget said. Some come every week and some come when they can.
Everybody in the group talked about their hopes and dreams. Randi wants to become a hairdresser, and her partner, Chris, hopes to go to work at Boise Cascade.
That takes a long time, he said. My dad works there, and my grand-dad worked at Boise.
Leslie plans to go to nursing school, and she hopes to get a scholarship. Bridget, who is studying child development at Eastern, hopes to become either a child development specialist or a sports psychologist.
Although some hurdles seem high, most of the young parents said they dont get too discouraged.
Were back on track, Randi said. We have so many people who help us.
FINDING ADEQUATE HOUSING OFTEN DIFFICULT TASK FOR YOUNG PARENTS
The teen-agers say the weekly support group gathering is important in their lives, but it is not the only service offered young parents by Shelter From the Storm.
We provide what our clients need, said Beth Bingham, coordinator of the program.
The needs are great.
Some need a surrogate mom; they call every day some several times a day, she said.
Often, Bingham visits in the teen-agers home. She meets regularly with one client at a rural high school. We do whatever makes them comfortable, she said.
Support group coordinator Cherrie Ward said, Some of these young parents have never had good examples; theyve never had boundaries.
The program works with parents, 13 through 21. The youngest parent now in the program is 15, and a couple are approaching 21.
Housing is a huge need, Bingham said. Parents 17 or younger often do not qualify for subsidized housing.
I know about a half-dozen without housing, she said. Many live with friends, floating from place to place. Some live in their car.
Some live in unsafe places, with a few in homes where illegal drugs are bought and sold. Its the only place they have to go, Bingham said.
The young parent program, which has been administered by Shelter for about three years, is filling a huge gap, said Sarah Schlichting, shelter director.
The leaders would like to expand parts of the program, especially the support group, to include older parents, and all three said theyd like to see more outreach a way to connect with young parents living in rural areas.
Money is tight, however, and Schlichting said some grant funds will end this year, but others may continue. The Union County Commission on Children and Families has provided about $10,000 a year for the past two years, but those funds end at the close of the fiscal year, June 30.
Everything is tenuous, Schlichting said.