ABUNDANT HEALTH VIGNETTE
Being a mom to a preschooler is hard. It is especially hard for a teenager who is still trying to grow up herself.
First United Methodist Church in West Lafayette, Indiana, is reaching out to these teen moms through a ministry called Teen MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).
Neil McTavish coordinates the group, which has been meeting and giving support to young mothers for 11 years. They have about 15 teens and 25 children involved in the program, along with 15 volunteers.
"One of the most important things we offer these girls is hope," McTavish said. "Many of them come from homes with little or no support, and we offer love and friendship in a positive, supportive family of faith environment."
The teen moms' lives are filled with a lot of negatives, he said. "One of the biggest is bad influences around them. Another big one is addiction, not so much the girls as the people surrounding them. Most don't have a high school education. Some don't have a driver's license. They feel trapped."
Besides hope, love and support, the Teen MOPS program teaches the mothers life skills such as career planning, parenting and money management and offers spiritual messages on love and commitment.
"We offer aptitude tests to help them see what their interests and gifts are," McTavish said. "We want them to understand there are options available to them besides minimum wage jobs. We want them to know they can get training and education that will lead to jobs where they can support themselves and their children."
Teen MOPS isn't all about meeting inside First UMC's building.
"We do some fun field trips with the girls and their kids, too," McTavish said. "We do a field trip to the zoo in the summer, and another time we take them all to the Children's Museum. They are fun outings for all of us."
The church's involvement with Teen MOPS goes beyond just hosting the program.
"The church offers scholarships for the girls to finance job training," McTavish said. "Our church members have been very generous. At Christmas, we do a ‘Christmas is Not Your Birthday' fundraiser. It's based on the book by (the Rev.) Mike Slaughter (pastor of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio). Two years ago, the church chose Teen MOPS as the recipient of the funds. They gave $12,000 to our scholarship fund. We will be the recipients again this year. The scholarships make school possible for our girls. Some of our girls have enrolled in CNA (certified nursing assistant) training and have gone to work."
The mothers and the volunteers invest significant time in the program. The group meets each Wednesday evening, with one week a month off during the summer and two weeks off during the Christmas holidays.
Involvement in the program positively affects the volunteers as well as the moms.
"We have mentors assigned to the girls," McTavish said. "The mentors work very closely with the girls and become friends. They all learn from each other. It's extremely rewarding."
About 100 Teen MOPS groups meet in the United States and Canada, providing a faith-based, supportive, non-judgmental environment where teen mothers can come together for support and encouragement. Teen MOPS teaching, activities and friendships all focus on the very distinct needs of teenagers. Teen MOPS helps participants become more self-sufficient, confident, mature, giving and self-aware young women.
Polly House is a freelance writer and editor serving as an editorial assistant for Interpreter. She is based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Originally published in Interpreter Magazine, January-February 2017.