A place of stability for young mothersJessica Mullen is an 18-year-old mother who recently shared her life story at the YWCA’s Women of Distinction luncheon on Oct. 23.
Jessica Mullen is an 18-year-old mother who recently shared her life story at the YWCA’s Women of Distinction luncheon on Oct. 23.
“I was born into the foster care system. I was in it up until I was three years old,” said Mullen. Mullen was living steadily with her mother until she was
14 years old — and pregnant.
“My mom put me back into foster care when she found out I was pregnant,” said Mullen. She was in and out of the system and moved from foster home to foster home over the next two years. Her daughter Lilyana was placed into the foster system as well. Mullen said she was worried Lilyana would grow up in the foster system like she did. She didn’t have custody and could visit her only two times a week for two or three hours.
But everything changed for Mullen and Lilyana when Mullen found a stable home in the YWCA’s Spirit Valley Young Mother’s Supportive Housing Program.
The Young Mothers program is dedicated to providing mothers ages 16 to 21 a safe place to live and offers supportive services to help the mothers become self-sufficient and better parents. The center has seven efficiency apartments for the mothers and their children. Mothers living there receive classes on budgeting, parenting, time management.
“Part of living here is that all of the moms have to be working or going to school. Right now Jessica is going to school fulltime,” says YWCA’s youth program director Melissa Hellerud-Storie. Mullen attends Unity High School fulltime and is on track to graduate this June.
“I feel like this last year has been a big year for me. I’m growing up and I’m finally getting on a path that’s good,” said Mullen. Mullen isn’t sure what she wants to go into after graduating high school.
“I wanted to be a lawyer, but my mind changes,” says Mullen. “I feel like social work would be a greater purpose because I could help children like me.”
Graduating from high school is one of Mullen’s last goals in her independent-living skills plan.
According to Hellerud-Storie, each mother is asked to stay at the center for one year in order for the mothers to develop a sense of stability and establish some roots.
Over the course of the year, each mother sets independent goals which are updated quarterly.
“It’s things like
getting a driver’s license, graduating or getting a GED,” said Hellerud-Storie.
One of Mullen’s main goals was to be reunited with Lilyana and to be out of foster care. When she moved into the center, she was sad that Lilyana couldn’t come with her right away, but says she needed to make a home for Lilyana first. Mullen had a reunification plan in place with child-
“With Jess there was never a backslide. She focused on her plan. So in our mind, she was always going to be able to bring Lilyana home,” said Hellerud-Storie.
On Sept. 11, 2013, Mullen turned 18 and is officially out of the foster care system as is her daughter. They now live together in one of the shelter’s studio apartments.
The program also focuses on helping young mothers become better parents. They provide parenting classes and childcare while the mothers are in school or at work during the day. Mullen says she’s “learned to be a mom” and has learned more about child development.
“I’ve learned to be less angry. I used to think she’d do things on purpose. Now I know, she just does it because she’s a kid,” said Mullen.
“We focus a lot on healthy relationships with everyone in their lives. Most of the moms that come here don’t come from idyllic backgrounds,” said Hellerud-Storie. She said it’s really important to create a feeling of community. She said that a lot of mothers who have moved on from the program often come back for group nights. Hellerud-Storie said that “even five years down the road, they can call home. A lot of the girls who are here have never had that.”
“It’s kind of like a family,” said Mullen as she pulled Lilyana in for a hug.