On any given Thursday evening you can walk through the doors of Hope Pregnancy Center in Kalispell, Montana and discover a unique gathering of moms swapping potty-training tips, learning about child development, or kneading loaves of bread. This may sound like any other mothering support group, but as these attendees equip themselves for 18 years of hands-on parenting, they're also figuring out how make it to their 18th birthday as members of the ministry Teen MOPS.
According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 34 percent of young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20—and 79 percent of these are unmarried teens. Nearly 80 percent of unmarried teen mothers end up on welfare. In addition, children of teenage mothers have lower birth weights, are more likely to perform poorly in school, and are at greater risk of abuse and neglect.
For me, these statistics are all too real. At age 17, my life changed overnight. One day I was an honor student, the next an expectant mother. Embarrassed about my situation, I dropped out of school. My emotions were torn; I wanted my old life back, but secretly I also was excited about being a mom.
My boyfriend dumped me, and my friends moved on with their senior year. Yet there was a group of women who stuck by me. They gave me a baby shower and invited me to Bible study. Because of their influence, I became a Christian.
Fifteen years have passed since I was that pregnant teen. Now I give my time and efforts to Teen MOPS to help support young women who face the same struggles I once did. Affiliated with Mothers of Preschoolers International (MOPS), Teen MOPS not only helps teenage moms, it also provides an outlet for women such as me to give back the same encouragement we once received.
Opening the Doors
Teen MOPS started in 1995 in Modesto, California. The first coordinator approached MOPS International with the idea of an after-school club for young moms at the local alternative high school. Today there are more than 100 Teen MOPS groups in 32 states and 1 in Canada.
Teen MOPS groups range from small gatherings of 6 attendees to a group in Peoria, Arizona that reaches more than 80 young moms every week. Some groups meet in churches, others at schools or pregnancy care centers.
While the style of the group varies by location, most follow a common format, which includes a free meal, free childcare, and a meeting that consists of games, speakers, discussion, and creative activities.