An estimated 750,000 teenage girls will get pregnant this year. 485,000 will choose to give birth and less than 4% will give their baby up for adoption. This means that several hundred thousand will be facing life as a teen mother. How can we help encourage and equip these teenagers to be successful as parents, students and young adults?
Teen Mother Choices International is an organization addressing that very concern. TMC International is set up as a mentoring and life skills training program that helps teen moms become independent, functioning adults. It is structured to concentrate on the five major roles these young ladies face: teenager, mother, student, employee and seeker. The term seeker means that she is trying to find her identity and place in this world.
Founder Christa March faced an unplanned pregnancy at the age of 18. Sadly, she had an abortion. However, now she honors the memory of her child by reaching out to help teen moms. Later in her adult life, she experienced an eye-opening moment when she realized, “I’ve told those girls ‘Don’t abort your children,’ but I’ve never given a single thought to how I can help them afterwards.” This prompted Christa to do her own research, interviewing over 70 organizations that worked with pregnant teens. But she discovered that there was not one dedicated to assisting teen moms after the baby is born.
Christa first started Teen Mother Choices within her church. TMC pairs teen moms with a mentor who is a wife and mother. Mentors help the teens to set six-month goals. They are also there to provide support in crisis intervention. In addition, it is required that the girls attend weekly “life skills workshops” taught by volunteers. A full curriculum is available to teach the basic proficiency they need for parenting and other practical skills like financial management, homemaking and studying. One of the major goals of TMC is to ensure that the teen mothers finish school. To accomplish this, the group offers child care assistance, paying up to 100% of the child care expenses. Girls are typically in the program between one to five years, with the average being two to three years. In order to “graduate” they must be financially stable, age 25 or under, graduated from high school and have reached goals set with their mentor.
In 2007, Christa expanded her vision to train churches and organizations to host their own TMC program. It has since grown to include 47 churches and pregnancy care centers. They are also working with individuals in Canada, Mexico, the UK and other countries to start similar groups.
Todd Habegger has been the pastor of a TMC church since 1996. He sees this program as a way to move beyond being anti-abortion to being fully pro-life by supporting mothers who choose life. Todd even had the honor of performing the wedding ceremony for one of the TMC graduates. He said, “I feel that this program can help break the cycle many of these girls are caught in. It helps them to become productive and positive mothers to their children.”
Janet Gil is one of the teen mothers currently in the program. Pregnant at the age of 14, she was referred to TMC by her school guidance counselor. After being in the program for five years, she is thankful that TMC allowed her to stay in school and provided the emotional support and encouragement she needed. She said, “One of the skills I am most thankful for is how to communicate with my child.”
If you are interested in learning more about how to start a TMC group in your area, visit Teen Mother Choices or call 847-826-8336.