Teen pregnancy: Young parents hope – someday – to give back|[07/07/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 7, 2008

This is the second in a three-part series of stories on teen pregnancy.

Brittany Williams and Samuel Ennis look forward to a day when they can make a donation to Vicksburg Family Development and return the favor.

When Williams, then a 16-year-old at Warren Central High School realized she had more than a stomach virus and was, in fact, pregnant with her son, Pheory, she quickly become prepared for the inevitable – diaper changes, bottle feedings, late nights and early mornings. But, since they were both in school, Williams and Ennis didn’t have the money to raise a child.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“We didn’t have anything,” Williams said. “I started working hard to stay in school, so I got my GED and went on to college.”

Looking into the future was scary for Williams, now 17, whose only experience with children had been a childcare class in high school and baby-sitting her niece. While education became more of a priority, all other plans were up in the air – until she and Ennis began receiving help from Vicksburg Family Development Services, a primary prevention, early intervention program whose purpose is to provide parents with skills and support to promote positive outcomes for their children and themselves. The agency is one of more than 20 in Warren County geared, in some way, toward helping teen parents or preventing teenage pregnancy.

“They teach us – budgeting money, the cost of a child – they told us what to expect,” Williams said. “They taught us what was healthy (for the baby) to eat, disciplining and ways to raise a child. It really made me open my eyes.”

VFDS and other agencies are joining forces in Warren County to prevent teen pregnancy, which is on the rise with 44.2 of every 1,000 teenage girls being reported as pregnant in 2006, the most recent data from the Mississippi Department of Health. Those numbers break down to 165 pregnancies reported among the 3,734 girls ages 10 to 19 in 2006 in Warren County. In Mississippi the same year, 41 out of every 1,000 teens, or 8,701 out of 212,411, ages 10 to 19 were pregnant.

Widespread effects

In addition to prevention, the groups have formed a teen pregnancy coalition, focusing on providing support to teen moms. VFDS also has a program for young men, called Male Image, that teaches responsibility to teens to prevent them from becoming dads, as well as preparing future and present fathers. Efforts aren’t geared toward any race, sex, age or socioeconomic status.

“It affects every culture, every household – regardless of income and across all lines,” said social worker and local teen pregnancy prevention advocate Mimi Jeffers.

Although statistics show 90 percent of fathers to teen pregnancy abandon the child and mother, Ennis said he doesn’t want to be one of those fathers. In fact, as soon as he heard he had a baby on the way, his world changed.

“There was a big smile on my face. From that day, everything changed,” he said. “I used to hang out with my friends, but I changed all that. I got a job, which took a while. But, after that, Vicksburg Family Development helped us a lot. They helped me cope with how to be a father.”

Now, Ennis doesn’t put himself first anymore. When he receives his pay check, he no longer spends it all on the first day.

“Now, I don’t worry about myself. I worry about Brittany and Pheory. Every day it’s like a new experience waiting on those front steps,” he said. “I put money aside and spend it on them.”

While Williams, born to a single teenage mother, was prepared to raise her son alone – if she had to – she said she’s grateful Pheory will grow up knowing his father.

“I grew up without a father, and my mom had to raise us. It was hard,” she said. “We didn’t have a lot.”

But, Ennis is committed to staying committed.

“I had set a goal – if I ever had a son or daughter, I was being there,” he said. “I was going to step up and take care of my responsibilities. I wanted to be a father that stayed.”

Goals in mind

Williams and Ennis have a strict path they want their son to follow so he doesn’t follow in the footsteps of other children of teen parents. The “long list of problems” blamed on teen pregnancy include 50 percent of children born to a teen parent will repeat a grade and 13 percent of sons born to teen parents will end up in prison, said Dr. LeDon Langston, an obstetrics and gynecology consultant for the Mississippi Department of Health. Studies also link children of teen parents to poverty, poor health and abuse. But, Williams and Ennis have plans for keeping Pheory from becoming a statistic, they said.

“Oh, he will go all the way. We’ll try to keep him in a good crowd and we’ll teach him right from wrong,” Williams said.

Supporting teenage parents and their children has to be a comprehensive approach – bringing teens together with school officials, faith-based organizations and nonprofits devoted to all aspects of the cause, said Sharonda Medina, former executive director of the Center for Pregnancy Choices, an organization that provides free pregnancy tests and works to reach girls and women facing an unplanned pregnancy.

“Everybody has a role to play,” she said. “It’s significant when you wait (with a teen taking a pregnancy test) to see if someone’s life is about to change. If it’s positive, the rug is pulled out from under them, and if it’s, ‘No,’ you have an opportunity to say, ‘Wait a minute, there needs to be some changes here.’ Their whole life hangs on whether they’re pregnant or not.

“It’s a time of crisis is what it is, and to have a place to come, where you don’t have to hide who you are or what you’ve done – once you’re accepted, there’s a sense of belonging.”

Many programs

Area agencies offering support and prevention measures do so through youth programs, character education, child care and educational programs.

Although Williams and Ennis are in no position to help others right now, they said they are grateful for the support they have had and plan to use their story to help others.

“Vicksburg Family Development is a good program. It’s a life-changing thing,” Ennis said. “I want to encourage fathers to be a part of it.”

Williams said the time will come when they will be able to give back.

“I’m trying to get a job and a car. I’m planning to get my associate’s degree in computer programming, and then I want to get a house,” she said. “Then, we’ll donate to family development – to teen parents, because we know how it is.”

Services and supportCenter for Pregnancy Choices – 1905 Mission 66, Suite 2, Beverly White, 601-638-2778, cpc@vicksburg.com-Provides free pregnancy tests.-Offers parenting classes.Central Mississippi Prevention Services – 1911 Mission 66, Suite B, Joseph Johnson, 601-631-0102-Revitalizes and expands the capacity of failing students.-Trains and empowers students to abstain from delinquent behavior.Child Abuse Prevention Center – 1529 Walnut St., Annette Jones-Baskin, Susan Morang, 601-634-0557, capctr@vicksburg.com-Provides the Baby Think It Over program for high school students.City of Vicksburg – 923 Walnut St., Mary Galtney, 601-631-3723, marygaltney@yahoo.com-Youth programs.Girl Scout Council of Middle Mississippi – 1471 W. County Line Road, Jackson; Twila Vantrease, 601-366-0607, twila@gscmm.org; Mimi Jeffers, 601-937-7112-Provides character education, including abstinence education, to girls in the public schools, grades fourth through eighth.Haven House – P.O. Box 57, Georgia Grodowitz or Daytra Walker, 601-638-0555-Help care for children of teen mothers to help them finish school.Mississippi Community Education Center – 1458 Parkside Drive, Debbie and Woody Brumitt, 601-951-5073, debbietoo@hotmail.com-Provides educational programs for schools and organizations.Vicksburg Family Development Services – 1205 Monroe St., Kay Lee, 601-638-1336, kayespeylee@yahoo.com-Works with teens who have had a child to prevent a second pregnancy.-Pregnancy prevention for teen boys and girls through Male Image program and Girls Club.Vicksburg Warren School District Nurses – 1315 Grove St., Cynthia Nash and Tammi Sims, 601-636-4371-Provides education to teen mothers in seventh through 12th grades who are out of school on maternity leave.-Teaches personal hygiene in schools, as well as individual counseling.Warren County Children’s Shelter – P.O. Box 820174, Peggy Thomas, 601-634-0640, pthomas@mchscares.org-Provides services for teen mothers.-A SafePlace facility for runaway teens.-Serves abused and neglected children and teens.n Warren County Health Department – 807 Monroe St., Barbara Lawrence, 601-636-4356, dbdrlawrence@yahoo.com-Follows teen mothers.-Provides assistance and referrals.Warren County Youth Court – 1100 Grove St, B, Hazel Calhoun, 601-630-8004, hcalhoun_wcyc@yahoo.com-Works with other agencies with youth involved in the court system.-Acts as a referral source.Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.-Supports youth programs.Bowmar Baptist Church – 1825 U.S. 61 South, 601-636-2596-Offers the Life Interrupted program, which offers child care and a meal during the program; 601-831-7031; meets Wednesday evenings, 6-7:30 p.m.; child care provided.Word of Faith Christian Center Church – 1201 Grove St., 601-638-2500, www.woficc.com-Youth program.Negro Business & Women’s Club – Ruby Green, 601-636-1733, rgreen@vicksburg.com-Supports youth programs.Triumph M.B. Church – 124 Pittman Road, Santa Carpenter, 601-634-8073, sandy@co.warren.ms.us-Youth ministry that works with teens at the Kings Empowerment Center.-Boys and Girls Club chapter services.

Tuesday: The cost