Orange County Pregnant Teens Find Help with Fristers

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FRISTERS (Friends and Sisters), an organization that offers a place of safety, community, help and hope to teenagers who have chosen to parent, celebrates the graduation of six students.

Recently, a very special kind of graduation took place at Mariners Church in Irvine, California. The class was small. Only six students, all females 19 or younger -- all mothers who, at a very early point in their lives, became pregnant and without knowing how they would succeed, made the decision to keep their babies. They all shared similar fears about a future excised from family and friends with no means of support: no job, no car and no education. A future dependent upon California’s social services.

Enter FRISTERS (Friends and Sisters), an organization that offers a place of safety, community, help and hope to teenagers who have chosen to parent. Through a unique curriculum designed to suit their specific needs, young moms are given the opportunity to grow to become the best women and the best mothers they can be. FRISTERS also offers a special program for their children to help them prepare for kindergarten and life.

During the ceremony, videoed interviews were presented of each graduate explaining the paths that led them from dire circumstances to this moment in time. One story, belonging to graduate Ashley Myers, was a poignant reminder of how easily a young girl can be misdirected when a family’s love and support is missing from her life.

Ashley is the product of a broken home. Her biological father left her and her two older siblings when she was just an infant. Her mother remarried, adding a new ‘dad’ and over the years, five more children into the household. Statistics* show that one out of two marriages in the US ends in divorce, that 75% remarry and that 66% of those who remarry or live together break up when children are involved. These figures indicate that even under the best conditions, the blending of two families under one roof is not easy. In Ashley’s case, the verbal, physical and emotional abuse supplied by her step-father made home life intolerable. At 13, she left, choosing to sleep on her best friend’s couch rather than endure the changes at home. The next two years of her life were virtually unsupervised. By 14, she was heavily involved in alcohol and drugs, and at 15 she became pregnant.

This was the beginning of a very difficult and uncertain time for Ashley. The decision to keep her baby was viewed as unwise by many who would control her life. She received no outside assistance and very little support from her parents, who allowed her to move back home, but insisted she pay rent. Returning to school was not an option. Ashley found a full-time job and with encouragement from her maternal grandparents, she enrolled in night school to earn her high school degree. She also began to attend AA meetings. It was a lonely time, made lonelier by the general public’s reaction to her condition. Like so many teen moms, she was alternately looked down on or ignored.

Despite the hardships, Ashley remained steadfast to her maternal and educational commitments. At 16, she gave birth to her son, Landon, and with him arrived new hope and help in the form of her son’s paternal grandmother. A second son, Cole, followed when she was 18. At three, he was diagnosed with MCT-8, a rare genetic disorder that would impair his physical and mental growth throughout the rest of his life.

It was at this point that Ashley was introduced to FRISTERS by Cole’s grandmother, a volunteer with the organization. Upon attending her first meeting, Ashley felt immediate love and acceptance. In her words, she, “found a place I can call home and a family; a true family that love and accept me for who I am and who will never stop supporting, encouraging and inspiring me to keep on achieving.”

The 32-week LifeCoach program provided Ashley with educational and vocational resources, one-to-one coaching, role models and spiritual support for all the areas of her life. The program was not easy, but it armed her with new parenting skills and a growing self-confidence in her abilities as a woman and a mother. In addition, the FRISTERS staff helped Ashley find the medical assistance she needed for her son Cole’s disabilities.

Through her participation in FRISTERS, Ashley found the strength to repair family connections and seek relationships in her personal life that were no longer controlling or abusive. At 24, she gave birth to her third son, Emmett. She now has an apartment and a full-time job that allows her to work from home while overseeing the care of her children. After receiving her high school diploma, Ashley enrolled at Orange Coast College and is two classes away from matriculation to CSU Long Beach to continue her studies in criminal justice.

Ashley Myers’ success is mirrored by the other five graduates. After completing the LifeCoach program with FRISTERS, all of them had high school diplomas. Some had advance degrees and mid-to-high level jobs. Three were married and two were celebrating the fact that they had closed escrow on homes for their families. And like Ashley, many will remain with their FRISTERS family as volunteers, teachers, friends and sisters; reaching out to other teen moms in need of guidance and support; empowering them to become the best women and the best mothers they can possibly be.

In September, FRISTERS opened its sixth location in Orange County at The Crossing Church, 2115 Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa. If you know of a teen mother in need, please urge her to contact president and founder Ali Woodard or any of her wonderful staff at 949-387-7889 or info@Fristers.org. For a complete list of FRISTERS locations and more information, visit http://www.Fristers.org.

  •      Stepfamily Foundation Inc.

     Jeannette Lofas, Ph.D., LCSW
     310 West 85th St., Suite 1B
     New York, NY 10024
     Phone: (212)877-3244
     StepFamily.org/stepfamily-statistics

ABOUT FRISTERS                                                                                                                                                    

Every year over 400,000 teens give birth in the United States. Many lose the support of family and friends. Most have no high school diploma, no job, no driver’s license or car, and statistics show that nearly 70% live at the poverty level.

For the children born into poverty with single young mothers, the future is grim: a higher risk of premature birth and low birth weight; higher rates of abuse and neglect; development and emotional disturbances, such as hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, anxiety and low self-esteem; and a higher rate of dropping out of school. For the little girls, it’s an endless, repeating cycle of the lives their mothers lived: high school dropout, pregnant teen and long term dependence on public assistance. For the boys who grow up without a father’s influence, it’s a dangerous future populated with gang warfare, criminal activity and incarceration.

FRISTERS is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty and abuse among teen moms. Since its inception, the organization has helped hundreds of young women graduate high school, enroll in college and vocational training schools, get drivers’ licenses, find employment, get off of welfare and become loving, caring, responsible parents and role models to their children.

FRISTERS has six locations in Orange County that offer LifeCoach, a weekly program for teen moms, pregnant or parenting, within the ages of 13-24, and Kidsters Childcare and School Readiness Program for their children, ages 0-7. These programs and services are provided to the community free of charge, regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity and there is no religious requirement for the programs. For more information, please visit http://www.fristers.org.

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Janet Roberts
Young Company
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