The Spokane River beckoned under a balmy sky at Camp White in Post Falls Thursday afternoon. Nathan Mayfield, 2, couldn’t wait to get his feet wet. “Go to pool?” he asked, pointing to the shimmering expanse of water.
His mom, Jessica Andrew, 18, laughed. “That’s a big pool!”
The pair were part of a picnic and beach day sponsored by Young Lives. Operating under the umbrella of Young Life, (a nondenominational Christian ministry for adolescents) the program reaches out to middle school- and high school-age girls who are pregnant or raising a child.
Shauna Edwards, area coordinator for Young Lives, launched the group in 2008. “We started in Spokane Valley with seven girls,” she said. “We’ve now expanded to the West Central neighborhood and have a total of 45 moms.”
Young Lives offers teen moms relief from the isolation they often experience, through a monthly meeting where they can connect with other young moms. Volunteers prepare a meal, provide child care and even transportation, if needed. Edwards said, “We wouldn’t exist without our volunteers!”
Andrew looks forward to the monthly meetings. She said, “I love having someone to talk to, and I love that we do crafts!”
But Young Lives provides more than just a night out with other moms. “We give them free diapers and wipes at every club meeting, and they can fill out an order form for clothing, and pick up the items at the next meeting,” Edwards said. The group partners with Inland Baby Northwest to provide baby clothes.
In addition, the girls are matched with mentors. Kim Conrow, 19, values her relationship with her mentor. As she watched her 2-year-old daughter, Kaylynn, run toward the playground equipment, she said, “My mentor is like my second mom. If I have a problem, even at 2 or 3 in the morning, I know I can call her or Shauna.”
That kind of support can mean everything to young girls who often lose their social network when they become pregnant. Eighteen-year-old Makelle Hamilton cradled her sleeping 2-month-old daughter, Brooklyn, in one arm, while trying to grab a few bites of food. “I got like, two hours of sleep last night,” she said.
From across the picnic table, Andrew interjected, “It gets better.”
While some moms supervised giggling toddlers splashing in the river, others relaxed and let Young Lives volunteers cuddle their infants. Edwards jiggled a fussy baby while discussing other resources offered by the program. “We have a weeklong summer camp every year,” she said. “It’s a place for them to just be teenagers again.”
Seventeen-year-old NyCole Gooch just returned from summer camp. She pointed to her 5-month-old son, Aiden, cooing in his car seat. “He got to play in the pool for the first time,” she said. Gooch enjoyed more rigorous camp activities like participating in a mud crawl. For her, the fact that the group leaders are all moms themselves makes a huge difference. “They can relate to us,” she said.
Several young dads joined moms and babies at the beach day. “Dads are welcome to all our meetings,” Edwards said. In fact, they’ve tried to launch a Young Lives group for dads, but found it difficult to get young men to stay committed and involved.
Once a month, the Valley and the West Central group join together for a life skills class, where they learn everything from menu planning, to basic home safety. Each year Young Lives also offers the five-week parenting course Love and Logic.
The program continues to grow. “We’re in the process of trying to get groups going in the Medical Lake/Cheney area and out farther north in Colbert or Mead,” said Edwards.
Funded by foundation grants and donations, the program recently held its first fundraiser. The Micros for Mamas event raised $6,000.
Meanwhile, they’ll keep doing what they do best.
Kim Conrow ran her hand through her daughter’s hair. “It’s a place where you don’t get judged,” she said. “We come together as a group and help each other out – it’s like a family.”