Raising Hope

Senior establishes support group for teen parents

Story by Paisley Allen, copy editor

They walk the halls just like the other students. They laugh and joke around with their friends. They find the time in their hectic schedules to write essays and finish math homework. They prepare for college and look to the future. They begin living their own lives. If they’re lucky.

If they’re lucky, the thought of school can still be a luxury that some teen parents can afford to entertain. However, for most, life becomes so off-kilter and awry that it seems like any hope for reconciliation or redemption is futile. The odds just don’t seem to be in their favor, and according to studies on the correlation between teen pregnancy and high school dropout rates, they aren’t for a substantial amount of teen parents.

Statistics from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy show that only 38 percent of teen girls who have a child before the age of 18 go on to receive their high school diplomas. Additionally, risk factors for teen fathers include low academic performance and early school dropout, according to the Healthy Teen Network.

As the mother of a 1 year old, senior Olivia Parks knows this just as well as anyone, which is why she created a support group for students dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and its aftermath.

“When I originally came up with the idea for this group, I wasn’t really sure what all it was going to be; I just had this idea that I wanted a support system for teen parents,” Parks said. “What I want is a safe place where people feel comfortable going if they have problems. I want people to know they’re not alone. If they’re in a crappy situation, there are ways out of it.”

Parks found out she was pregnant near the end of her sophomore year, and the events that followed were the most difficult, yet rewarding, experiences of her life. Knowing and understanding the hopeless feeling of loneliness after finding out she was pregnant, Parks wants people to have a place to go and be aware of their options. She has partnered with First Choice Pregnancy Resource Center in order to provide instructional seminars regarding prenatal care, parenting advice and information on resources. Through this, she hopes to give other people the opportunities she didn’t have.

Statistics from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy show that only 38 percent of teen girls who have a child before the age of 18 go on to receive their high school diplomas. ”

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“When I first thought I was pregnant, I didn’t know there was anybody I could go to for help, so I automatically just shut down and didn’t even let it become an option for me,” Parks said. “But other people who do accept it, they might not know that stuff like First Choice exists. I didn’t know it existed until after I had Delilah, and they offer so many options. They talk you through your options and support, and to me, that’s something important to have.”

Part of the reason Parks saw a need for the support group was the lack of sexual education in school and the stigma surrounding sex and pregnancy in general. Through her group, she is addressing topics and questions that some students may not get answers to anywhere else.

“To me, our school is not very informative on sex education,” Parks said. “They say to practice abstinence, but obviously that’s not a very good solution. And then when people do have sex, and the girl ends up getting pregnant, they don’t know what’s available. Only some people suffer the repercussions [of sex], and it’s not fair. That’s one of my big things, especially for girls that are pregnant, to not feel the shame that is cast on them, or the stares or the looks when walking around pregnant.”

After weeks of preparation and setup, Parks’ vision finally became a reality. Raising Hope had their first meeting on Oct. 25 in Room 24. The meeting was small and laid-back, serving primarily as an orientation to the group. First Choice staff member Dee Dee Jones and volunteer Mishal Hemphill led the meeting, starting by asking Parks and senior Kamreon Burns about the personal circumstances that brought them there.

Burns, the only other teen parent to attend the meeting and the only male in the room, opened up about his situation, telling the group that he is expecting a baby boy in November. Though he was initially hesitant about coming to the meeting when he learned about it from environmental science teacher Kelly Rowland, Burns explained afterward that he felt much more comfortable about being there. He’s eager to learn and plans to attend every meeting.

Through her group, she is addressing topics and questions that some students may not get answers to anywhere else.”

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“[The group] is really nice,” Burns said. “I feel like it will help me become a better person and overcome my fears when it comes to parenting.”

While it may have been discouraging to some to only have one person show up to their meeting, Parks was optimistic about the group’s potential. She made sure to tell Burns how much she admired and respected him for taking the initiative to come to the meeting, especially considering the negative reputation teen fathers have garnered over the years.

“I felt really good about [the meeting] just because it finally happened,” Parks said. “And even though only one person showed up, that is still someone whose life can be impacted in an incredible way. The fact that it was a guy is amazing to me. I respect him so much because of my situation with my daughter’s dad. Fathers are typically viewed as losers who leave, but he showed us that he’s going to be there for his kid by being at this meeting.”

Parks has been immeasurably encouraged by Raising Hope’s first meeting, and she knows it’s only going to grow from this point. However, she knows that there will still be people who have reservations about joining the group, and she wants those people to know that she genuinely wants to help.

“[Raising Hope] is a new thing,” Parks said, “so it needs time to grow. And to anyone that is hesitant about coming, I will say this: It is worth it. It is worthwhile to go and test this group out. Don’t assume things about it based on first impressions; just give it a chance. Give me a chance.”