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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow LACK OF FUNDING DOOMS YOUNG PARENT PROGRAM


Support group meetings between teen parents and advocates, including Cherrie Ward (center), will be coming to an end. (File photo).
Support group meetings between teen parents and advocates, including Cherrie Ward (center), will be coming to an end. (File photo).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

They'll get together for a Christmas party in a couple of weeks.

There won't be much laughter there, and they won't celebrate, because the party will mark the end of the days when the young people and their children would gather for support and fun.

After five years, the Young Parent Program has run out of money and will close.

"It's very depressing," said Sarah Schlichting, director of Shelter From the Storm, the organization that supported the program financially.

About 21 young families, most in their teens, will be left without a support group and other services tailor-made for them. Those left in the lurch include five families that have joined the group within the past couple of months.

"I don't think they're angry; they're scared," said Cherrie Ward, one of the two advocates for the young parents. "At their age, surprises are not a good thing."

Help from Ward and program director Beth Bingham has ranged from daily phone conversations about child care and family crises to interpreting a road map through the labyrinth that leads to state benefits. They direct the weekly support group sessions, giving the young people an opportunity to talk about their problems and share their stories with each other.

"I think one of our successes was in getting full disability payments for a parent with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder," Ward said.

The Young Parent Program began at Shelter From the Storm about five years ago with a $12,000 grant from the county Commission on Children and Families.

Over the years, the program received other grants and funds, and at its peak, it operated on about $50,000 a year, hiring one full-time and one half-time employee.

When the statewide focus on children was directed toward children younger than 8, it became more difficult for programs focused on young parents to qualify for grants from the Commission on Children and Families, and the Shelter has not applied for those funds in the past year, Schlichting said.

Early this year, declining funds dropped the operating budget by half, and now nearly all funding has vanished.

Schlichting said she has sought money from many granting foundations without success.

"Last year we wrote letters to 75 foundations, and we heard from three," she said. "We applied, but none was funded."

Schlichting and her team haven't ended the program without a fight. They have looked for another agency that would be willing and able to take on the program, but there have been no takers.

The state's budget woes that are impacting all public social service agencies and the declining stock market that has affected the revenues of many foundations are contributing to the problem.

"The Young Parent Program needs to grow and expand," Schlichting said. "We have so many limitations — space, time. It's very frustrating."

The two advocates who, for nearly a year, have shared one full-time position will lose their jobs when the program ends. Both have other part-time jobs but have been unsuccessful in finding full-time employment.

"Neither one of us is sure what will come next, as these jobs are not enough to survive on and have no benefits to speak of. The loss of health insurance will be a big one for me," Ward said.

"If I really want to work with teens, maybe I can get a job at McDonald's and counsel them there."

The one glimmer of hope is coming through a play group sponsored by the Healthy Start program, Bingham said. The children of young parents will be accepted into the play group, she said.

"It's heart-breaking knowing the need, what it could be with resources and knowing there are no comparable services out there," Ward said.

"Neither Beth nor I has given up on this population or this work — just some new and difficult challenges ahead."

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