Learning to parent at a young age
The program served 80 teenage mothers in 2011, and currently has about 14 teens enrolled this year. It currently works with students in 10 Shelby County schools.
Locke said the program provides resources and referrals to what Shelby County offers for teen moms and dads. The Shelby Baptist Association offers free teen labor-and-delivery classes, and Locke recommends students attend classes at Sav-A-Life Shelby Pregnancy Resource Center in Pelham. Locke also gives referrals for students to get clothing from Oak Mountain Missions Ministries, local churches and other resources. Shaw participated in a teen Lamaze class with Shelby Baptist Medical Center prior to having Aden.
“It was a bunch of my age girls with their boyfriend or husband, and we learned about how birth would be,” she said. “That was really comforting because it was your people as well. There were no 30-year-olds staring at you because you were so young.”
Allen attended classes at Sav-A-Life Shelby and received “mommy bucks” to spend in the center’s baby boutique for diapers, wipes and clothing.
The STEP program also offers guidance for teen dads. For the young men, Locke explains what is expected of them, how father’s rights work and how to be supportive to their child’s mother.
“With the right encouragement and support, they can definitely succeed and become self-sufficient,” Locke said of the pregnant and parenting students. “They try to enjoy life and be a good mom or dad. Just because they’re 17 doesn’t mean they can’t be a good parent.”
A COMFORT ZONE
Locke said part of the success of the program is allowing the young mothers to see they’re not alone in their pregnancy.
“It was a chance where more young mothers could get together so you wouldn’t feel so much left out,” Shaw said of the STEP Program. “Everyone in the group knew what you were going through, even though each individual had their own life and situation. It was nice having that group of other young mothers, like me.”
Shaw said Locke is there for her students “100 percent,” and offers to be with young mothers in the hospital as they give birth.
“I’m really proud of my students to face what they face and don’t give up,” Locke said. “They succeed and do finish school. They sincerely want to be good parents.”
The STEP Program provides education on sexually transmitted disease awareness, budgeting, community resources, food pantries and other opportunities.
“To me, it was mainly a getaway,” Shaw said. “You could go in, and we talked about pregnancies, child birth and all that, but you could relax. You’re not the only one in the world. It was a comfort zone you could go to and know you’re not alone.”