POSTED ON AUGUST 15, 2012:
It Takes a Village
Local organizations help young parents in need
Editor's note: The following article was written by UTW's youngest intern, Andrea Mayes, who recently finished a fine summer at the paper. Andrea is a senior at Jenks High School (see "Meet Our Intern," June 21-27, Vol. 21, No. 52).
Surely there are few who haven't heard the statistics: Teen pregnancy is on the rise. Both locally and nationally, young families are abounding. Even in the best of circumstances, when teens have the support of family and community, and the means, bringing an unplanned child into the world at a young age is fraught with difficulty. In less than ideal circumstances, teen pregnancy can be a real crisis. Thankfully, several metro organizations have decided to face the issue head on by offering real help and hope to teens in need.
Emergency Infant Services (EIS) has been helping Tulsa families in crisis for 35 years. They work to provide basic needs to children from birth to five years of age. They provide parents with diapers, formula, clothing and other supplies up to four times in a year. The organization serves about 66 kids a day according to their Executive Director, Tom Taylor, working tirelessly to help each family's unique needs and situation.
When a family comes to EIS, they are interviewed by a volunteer who assesses their need. If what they receive at their first visit isn't enough, then they can return up to three more times in the calendar year. This process was implemented so that families feel like they aren't just getting a hand-out, but that they are actually being supported. EIS will also connect families with other organizations if they need other services, such as counseling or housing. Though 95 percent of people that EIS helps are working to make ends meet, the group wants to make sure that no child is a victim of his or her parents' circumstances. They can also provide assistance to foster parents if needed.
Yet unfortunately, the need is ever-growing. EIS will be opening a satellite location around 41st and Mingo later this fall, and should soon be serving "around 21,000 kids total every year between the two locations," Taylor said. He is also very adamant about thanking those who make their services available. "We couldn't do what we do without volunteers," Taylor said. "We have been able to sustain our program for 35 years thanks to the generosity of Tulsans."
Taylor also said that a lot of what the group is able to accomplish is based on donations of goods, time or money. The organization is now selling tickets for its annual fundraiser, "Celebrate, Rattle and Roll," which will take place September 22, and which brings in around 20 percent of the organization's annual funds.
Other than that, all other services are provided by donations from corporate sponsors, religious organizations, or everyday citizens. Diaper drives, fundraisers and donations of gently used furniture and clothing make up a large portion of what the organization works off of, along with its volunteers. Taylor said even some of their first volunteers still come in 35 years later. And every last service helps. "You can almost see the stress relief of the parents," Taylor said, "and that's what makes coming to work so great."
Crisis Pregnancy Outreach
Another organization helping young families is Crisis Pregnancy Outreach (CPO). This program helps young girls who have an unplanned pregnancy explore their options and find a safe and supportive environment. CPO is special because it specifically focuses on the birth moms.
"We really want to be able to help," said Assistant Director Kelly Jacobson. "We want these girls to know they have options and that they are cared about."
CPO provides a range of services to young women, including support groups, medical care, adoption and/or parenting classes, doulas, a place to stay and a 24-hour phone line for anyone who needs help. Through these services CPO has been able to assist approximately 900 girls a year.
The girls they aid come from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs, and CPO is a judgment-free place that can provide them with opportunities for success. The group is split by girls who choose an open adoption and girls who choose to parent. The choice is completely up to them, and once they make a decision, the group helps the girls through the rest of their pregnancy and through the stages afterwards.
The girls are given medical help, Christian counseling, and basic goods that have been collected by donation, such as maternity or baby clothes, formula and even carseats, or furniture to furnish an apartment. The girls are offered counseling for as long as they need it, and are supported by the other girls and their mentors at group meetings every week. Some women choose to move into CPO's home, where they are cared for by a full-time house mom, and they have a safe and quite place to think and grow.
The group is also guided through the adoption process or parenting, and are given a doula to help them through childbirth. "Doulas are there for the girls during birth and postpartum ... and help them to feel confident and have no regrets," said Assistant Director and Doula, Sarah Coffin. A doula will never take the place of a family member, but is there "to provide the girls with emotional and physical support," Coffin said.
The program is also a strong supporter of open adoption. In fact, all the adoptions through CPO are open. This is great for the girls because they can choose a safe and loving environment for their children to grow up in, while also being able to see them and form a relationship with them as they both mature. The girls are also able to form a bond with their child's adoptive parents, and have someone to share special moments in their child's life with.
"They are really a blessing to each other," said Jacobson. "Open adoption isn't about giving away family, it is about gaining family."
Like EIS, CPO is dependent on volunteers and donations. All of the staff at CPO is completely volunteer based -- no one receives a salary, and all donations go directly to the young mothers.
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