St. Anthony Hospital of Denver is working to help improve the well-being of both babies and young parents through its community-wide support and mentoring program for pregnant and parenting teens.
Established in 1995, Shared Beginnings provides a variety of services and incentives for young parents, which helps to create not only a healthier environment for the parents and their babies, but also serves to educate young parents and support them the crucial first three years of raising a child. "It’s a great program for young mothers," said Danelle Herrera, a participant in the program for two and a half years.
"I started out when I was 16 – that’s when I found out I was about seven weeks pregnant. It’s a great opportunity for young girls like me to interact with people out there who can help you."
Herrera, who learned about the Shared Beginnings through her doctor, has taken advantage of the many opportunities the program provides. One of the important elements offered through the program is the opportunity to be paired up with a mentor, or sharing partner.
This partner is someone who has volunteered his or her time to help young mothers and fathers through this challenging new world of becoming a parent.
"It’s nice to have a sharing partner, because you can’t always talk to mom and dad," Herrera said. "Sharing partners are great – they’ve all really been there for me as far as any questions or concerns that I may have. As a young mother you don’t know what obstacles you have to overcome.
"They helped me overcome a lot of problems – I wasn’t in school and then I found out I was also pregnant, so I had to deal with a lot of hard stuff."
Herrera has since earned her GED, which was one of the many things she said Shared Beginnings helped her accomplish.
Diane Graves, Herrera’s sharing partner, was looking to find something she could do in the community with her kids when she saw an article in her local newspaper about the Shared Beginnings program and decided to do it.
Graves started out with the program by getting donations of general baby items for the program from friends. She soon decided to become a mentor.
"I wanted something I could do as a volunteer with my kids, and as soon as I saw that article, I knew it was right up my alley because I get along with teens and kids," Graves said.
One of the other benefits the program offers young parents is the point system. Expectant mothers in the program, for example, will be awarded points for attending their doctor’s appointments or going to one of the many educational classes offered. These points can then be used at one of the three Shared Beginnings "Baby Stores" to purchase baby items.
"A lot of the stuff in the ‘Baby Store’ is things that most girls at that age can’t really afford – they don’t have no job or no money and it really helps out with things like diapers and necessities you’re going to need for your baby," Herrera said.
Participants in the program and their sharing partners spend most of their time together doing things such as going to classes, the zoo, art museums, athletic events as well as other events to help create a strong bond. The opportunity to go to different events in the area is made possible through donations by ArtReach, Inc., a Colorado nonprofit arts and human services organization.
"Going places is a great way for the mentor and the mother to get to know each other – rather than just sitting at a table and talking to each other," Graves said.
The program is offered to parents for three years; however, mothers do not have to deliver their babies at St. Anthony’s to be part of the program. Participants must be 19 years old or younger and not receiving duplicate services to be in the program.
Participants can stay in the program and earn points until the child is 3 years old. There is a program specifically for fathers, but the mother also has to be enrolled in the Shared Beginnings program.
"The program is geared towards helping the young mothers take care of themselves and realize they are having a baby, because at that age you want to be with your friends," said Gloria Sanchez, volunteer coordinator for the program. "The bottom line is insuring healthy babies and moms.
"We’re busy, we’re jammin’ all the time. Right now we have about 170 participants, including girls and guys that we consider active. Average is about 170-200, sometimes reaching as high as 240."
The Shared Beginnings program currently is looking for more volunteers – especially bilingual volunteers – to help with their demand. For more information about Shared Beginnings, call (303) 629-3686.
by Jason P. Smith