Nonprofit helps teen moms with school, child care
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Monday, October 08, 2012
10/08/12 at 7:32 AM
Find more of the Tulsa World’s ongoing coverage of teen pregnancy and prevention.
For 16-year-old Nidia Ortiz, there are days she doesn't get to see her baby.
The mother of a 1 1/2-year-old girl attends the Margaret Hudson program from 9 a.m. to about 3 p.m. then goes to her night job cleaning downtown offices until 11 p.m.
"My daughter is my motivation," Ortiz said. "Before, I didn't try as hard in school like I do now. I have to do this and try real hard to get a better job and a better education to support her.
"It's hard, but I manage. It's a sacrifice because I hardly have time with her. But it's a sacrifice so I can have a better life with her."
Margaret Hudson is a nonprofit program in Tulsa and Broken Arrow helping teen mothers graduate and get health and social services for their children. A child-care center with the capacity of 16 is located on the Tulsa campus.
Like most teen parents, many of the students receive some type of public support, such as food stamps, child-care subsidies and Women, Infants and Children benefits.
Director Felicia Rowland said the program serves 175 to 200 girls each year.
"In Tulsa County, there are about 1,200 girls between 15 and 19 each year having a baby," Rowland said. "We're only hitting the tip of the iceberg here."
About 22 percent of Oklahoma's teen moms have another baby within two years of the first, which is why Margaret Hudson has a focus on prevention and birth spacing, Rowland said.
"We need the community, Legislature, parents, faith community and educators to help us with primary prevention," Rowland said. "Margaret Hudson is here because students need us, but we'd love to be worked out of a job.
"We need comprehensive sex and health education programs in order to make a change in these high rates of teen births that has plagued our state for years. Our kids deserve better, and it's going to depend on prevention."
Rowland said young mothers need help not only finishing high school and learning parenting skills, but also navigating the systems of child support, health care and child care.
"They are still teenagers and may not make the right decisions," she said.
To earn credits toward graduation, Margaret Hudson uses a Tulsa Public Schools-approved online curriculum.
Girls at Margaret Hudson say they choose to attend the program rather than stay in their schools because of the smaller classrooms and focus on pregnancy and parenting.
Ortiz said she noticed her friends who were once happy for her eventually drifted away after she gave birth.
As a student at Rogers High School, she said the school staff treated her well, but she just couldn't fit in, she said.
"It was like another Margaret Hudson because pregnant people were everywhere," she said. "But I was only one in the freshmen academy and felt like an outcast.
"When I was pregnant, I was depressed and missed half of school. I would cry more because of being pregnant and was afraid of being alone. That's when my mom told me to go to Margaret Hudson. We are all in the same situation here and there is not a judgment."
Rowland said post-secondary education is encouraged but no formal data collection has been in place.
"We are in the process of tracking that information going back two years and are seeking a grant to help implement a system to do that," Rowland said.
Ortiz plans to take advantage of higher education opportunities through Educare, which is the nonprofit early childhood center her daughter attends. She plans to become a nurse.
"It's hard going to school and working. But it's worth it just being with her. I love being a mom, and I don't regret it. But it's a lot of responsibility."
She became pregnant at 14 by an 18-year-old man, who left town after he found out about the baby. She's leery about jumping into another relationship.
"I want someone for me and my daughter," she said. "I want someone to be there for my baby and respect me. I'm not going to bring someone around her who might leave. Her dad is like that already."
Ortiz said she was surprised by the reaction of her friends.
"They were excited for me, and I thought 'Are you crazy?' " she said. "I didn't think I could physically have a baby. I knew about it, but I thought I was too young for it to happen."
Quinntin Gamble, 15, also thought she was too young for pregnancy, though she knew how babies were made. Her 3-month-old's father has two children by other women.
"I haven't had a hard time with my baby yet," Gamble said. "She sleeps through the night. If I need a break or time to do school work, my uncle or aunt watches the baby."
Gamble is re-establishing a relationship with her mother, who lost parental rights when Gamble was 4.
She said she is unsure whether to seek child support, saying the father has been sending occasional assistance.
"I just don't understand why to put that on him," Gamble said. "I don't see the reason for child support."
Gamble said she'd like to become a recreational therapist and plans to finish high school after moving in with her mother, who lives out of state. She said she doesn't miss her social life.
"Ever since I had the baby, I've not wanted to go a lot of places," Gamble said. "I don't like leaving my baby."
Original Print Headline: The right fit
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376
Quinntin Gamble, 15, picks up her daughter, Honesty Gamble, 3 months, from the nursery for lunch at the Margaret Hudson program for teen mothers. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Candice Thomas (left) and Quinntin Gamble (right) feel the stomach of Raychel Nicoloff, 17, at the Margaret Hudson program for teen mothers. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World