18-year-old Jessica Esparza lost her job in March, after the shelter-in-place order went into effect across the Bay Area.
Now, she is struggling to provide for her infant daughter Janice, as she tries to navigate this uncertain time.
Esparza was a recipient of a Scholarship from Teen Success, Inc., an organization that has been in existence since 2011. Its mission is rooted in the idea that every teen mother deserves the opportunity to create success for herself. And so the organization works to support underserved teen mothers in finishing high school and ensuring the positive, healthy development of their children. With their headquarters based in Milpitas, and their eight locations across California and Nevada, Teen Success, Inc. serves roughly between 300-350 families a year.
Esparza was just 2.5 credits away from graduating high school, and had been looking forward to attending cosmetology school, which is now closed.
Teen Success, Inc., has been helping young mothers like Esparza grapple with the rapidly changing landscape brought about by the pandemic. They offer an empowering program that includes one-on-one coaching and group learning.
Now they have transitioned everything to the virtual world to be able to meet the needs of teen mothers, which are just as pressing as ever. Coaching is now done through Zoom and FaceTime, along with phone calls and text messages.
“We work with a resilient population,” said Program and Partnership Manager Yesenia Ramos. “Our girls are resilient before they get to our program and end our program being even more resilient. We’re doing our best to alter how we do our programs, and one-on-one coaching for them.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen birth rates have been in decline. The last piece of data collected from 2017 showed that teen moms (ages 15-19) gave birth to babies at a rate of 18.8 per 1,000 women from their age group. This number has dropped by 7% from 2016. In the year 2000, the percentage of teen moms in the 15-19 age group was up at 47.7%. The increasing number of programs out there to educate teens about sex and pregnancy over the years have no doubt had an impact. But the rate of teen pregnancy is still high in parts of California, like the Central Valley region.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures,“Teen pregnancy is strongly linked to poverty, with low income level associated with higher teen birth rates.”
Also, only 38% of teen mothers graduate high school. This statistic is one that the team at Teen Success, Inc., is working to help raise. And they are working hard to support their members during the COVID-19 crisis. Advocates have been helping young mothers in determining how to get access to diapers, school packets, and other essential items.
Many of the young mothers who are going through the organization’s program worked in retail or at restaurants, and so they’ve lost their jobs, or have had their hours cut.
Teen Success, Inc., partnered with the Stand Together Foundation, was able to get access to cash funds for the members of their program. Twenty-five young mothers received direct deposits in the amount of $500 apiece to support them during the crisis.
Mental health has also been something that the organization has focused on.
“Sheltering in place is new and kind of scary to our members,” said Ramos. “And so we do a mental health check-in and fun activity virtually to give them a place to socialize.”
Some members are having a hard time staying connected to the Teen Success, Inc. program due to lack of wifi access, or not having computers. And so the organization has been sending letters through the mail as a way to stay in contact with them.
To try and stick to their normal in-person rituals, Teen Success, Inc. has also been doing their best to follow a timeline and continue sharing their regular curriculum, which consists of social-emotional learning, reproductive health, and parenting. To adapt to the needs of this time, they’ve also been sharing self-care techniques, parenting ideas, and arts and crafts activities.
“We’re in a pandemic so we’re letting go of our structured curriculum to support our members in the ways that they need,” said Ramos.
The organization’s annual luncheon, which was to happen this month, had to be postponed. They hope to reschedule it for the Fall.
“In the meantime, we need to bring in those critical funds we would’ve gotten from the luncheon,” said Teen Success, Inc.’s Communications and Marketing Manager Diana Farias Heinrich. “We’re pivoting to a two-day online fundraiser. We’re really taking it as a chance to celebrate our scholarship recipients for this year, sharing as much as we can about them, and talking about the impacts that the pandemic has had on young mothers. It’s about awareness and celebration.”
Their online fundraiser is called Now More Than Ever.
The funds they would have received from the Scholarship luncheon would have gone toward helping the organization prepare for the following year. This year, there are six scholarship recipients, including Jessica Esparza, chosen from 33 applicants.
Since only 2% of teen mothers graduate from college by the time they’re 30 years old, Teen Success, Inc., provides scholarships to help them succeed in their education, so that they have greater career opportunities.
“A lot of our participants want to go into nursing and they are going to be the next wave of frontline workers,” said Heinrich.
Teen Success, Inc., also recently did an emergency diaper and wipes drive to support their members who couldn’t find and get access to such items to take care of their babies.
“I’m really grateful to Teen Success…that we’ve been able to adjust our work and continue serving our members,” said Heinrich. “I have a lot of respect for everyone we’ve worked with and for the leadership team, and how we adapted so quickly. I’m grateful that our community has really stepped up to help, whether through diapers and wipe donations, or through giving extra books. People are really trying to help. It’s such an inspiring thing to see.”
Learn more about the organization here.
And you can donate to their fundraising campaign here.