In 2007 at 15, Brittany Haymon of Springfield found herself pregnant and scared about where her life was headed. She became one of approximately 700 teens in Vermont who give birth each year.
The typical path these young mothers take is difficult at best. Most drop out of high school. Most end up on welfare. And statistics show that children of teen mothers have more difficulty in school, increased dropout rates and higher incarceration rates than their peers. For taxpayers, these problems build on each other to the tune of over $12 million each year.
Initially, Haymon seemed to be traveling the same rocky path as other teen mothers but then her life took a critical turn.
"I dropped out of school but then I was told about the program," she said.
The program she heard about was "Learning Together," the Springfield Area Parent Child Center's intensive parent training program that provides a high school education, and parenting and job skills all while providing childcare onsite.
"Because of the SAPCC now I have my own apartment and I'm finishing school," Haymon said. "If the Parent Child Center wasn't here, I'd probably be doing nothing."
According to Julie Merrill, Coordinator of the program, its focus has been to give teen mothers from the region the education and skills they need to support their children both financially and emotionally. "If we can help these young women get a diploma, find a job and build a strong family unit, that'll not only help them but build stronger communities in our area," Merrill said.
The program has five basic components: on-the-job experience, academics, parenting, job readiness activities, and interpersonal skills. Participants spend time on the job at Myrtle's Closet Thrift Store, the Center's onsite retail store. They also work at the Center's childcare facilities and at clerical and culinary jobs. SAPCC offers other programs such as playgroups, parenting classes and reading groups to help participants find balance and set realistic goals.
Haymon began attending the program in November 2007 and according to Merrill, she has made dramatic progress.
"When Brittany first came to us she had trouble maintaining eye contact and expressing herself. Now she's matured into a confident young woman and good mom," Merrill said.
"They've made me a better parent," Haymon says. "One parenting class was a reading class and now every night my son asks me to read to him."
The need in southern Vermont for programs that focus on children and families is growing according to Betty Kinsman, Executive Director at the Parent Child Center. "The overall number of kids and families we're serving has more than doubled in just two years," she said. "We've gotten overcrowded and we have waiting lists for infant and toddler care. That means that some of our pregnant teens are dropping out of the program since we don't have space for their babies once they're born."
To alleviate the overcrowding the Center plans to break ground for a new, larger building this spring and has already raised three quarters of the funds necessary. "We've been working on this for over two years and we're almost there," Kinsman said.
But until the new building is completed the young mothers will continue to share their classroom space with other programs at the Center. This hasn't dampened Haymon's enthusiasm however.
"The SAPCC has been really important, because I can work at my own pace," she said. "I didn't like it at the high school. It made me feel uncomfortable. But all the girls here are either pregnant or they have kids. I like being here with all the other moms, so we can share ideas about the kids. And the best thing is the childcare center is right downstairs. I can go down pretty much whenever I want to. If it wasn't for that I probably wouldn't be able to come here."
Haymon's experience at SAPCC culminated this past December when she completed her studies and received her high school diploma. Even more impressive is that she simultaneously completed the coursework and clinical rounds to obtain her Licensed Nursing Assistant Certificate. She sat for the state exam and just after the New Year she proudly showed off her freshly minted certificate to Kinsman and Merrill.
"We're so proud of Brittany and all she's accomplished in the last two years," Kinsman said. "She came to us in difficult circumstances but because of her hard work she'll soon be giving back to our communities."
Haymon gives most of the credit to the Parent Child Center. "All of the staff here are really helpful. They've helped with so many things," she reflected. "They've made me a better parent and helped me get my education."
As for her future plans, Haymon doesn't intend to stop learning.
"After working for a year, I want to go to a community college and either get my LPN or RN," she said. Her future plans will not keep her far from the Parent Child Center, as she plans for her son to remain in the Playworks Child Center.
When asked about her dream for her children's future, Haymon replied "I just want my children to finish high school, hopefully go to college but wait to have kids, so they can live their lives a little."
The SAPCC is a community resource open to all regardless of ability to pay. Its mission is to build strong communities, one family at a time. The Center offers services to educate and support young children and their families. To learn more about the Learning Together Program and the array of services offered by the SAPCC, visit www.sapcc-vt.org.