What is Young Life?
Last week you read about my first Young Life club – the weirdness and wonderfulness of it all. Young Life became a crucial part of my high school experience; I went to camp, participated in “Campaigners” (Bible study), and I became a leader for WyldLife, the middle school group, my senior year of high school and had the opportunity to get to know so many wonderful girls. The most meaningful part of working with kids ages eleven to fourteen is witnessing their unique combination of elementary school innocence and high school independence. This early stage of adolescence is awkward at best and devastating at worst, but the girls I led had the sweetest hearts and the biggest dreams. One of my proudest moments as a leader was when two of the eighth grade girls I’d become very close with told me they were going to a vocational high school to become special education and English teachers. I am an aspiring teacher as well, and the fact that I might have been a role model to these girls is incredible.
The Mission of YoungLives
I was introduced to YoungLives (Young Life for teens who are pregnant or mothers) by my leader Anne Rocha. Anne has dealt with teenage pregnancy in both her personal and professional life. Anne was eighteen when her sixteen-year-old sister Mary became pregnant. Mary went to a counseling clinic called First Choice in Plainfield, NJ. Anne volunteered at First Choice her senior year of high school while her sister was pregnant, which inspired her to study nursing at Biola University in La Mirada, CA.
Anne and I went to a YoungLives luncheon at the Young Life Leadership Summit in New York City on Jan. 24, 2015. We met YoungLives leaders, mentors, and teen moms from all over the northeast. One of the mothers, Destiny, spoke to us about growing up in a sexually abusive home and becoming pregnant during a physically abusive relationship at a young age. She and her YoungLives mentor worked hard to make sure she was financially secure and was able to be the best mom she could be. Destiny is living proof that YoungLives is making a difference in the lives of girls and their children.
As a smaller program within the Young Life ministry, YoungLives is made to be specifically accessible to teen moms and reaches 13,919 pregnant teens or teen moms every year. I fell in love with this ministry and hosted a spa night as a Mother’s Day party for Young Lives Plainfield.
Teen Pregnancy and Parenting
Pregnancy is a recurring topic in both middle and high school health classes. As of Jan. 1, 2015, twenty-two states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education. I remember learning about both abstinence and contraception starting in the eighth grade. However, we did not discuss the options available for teen moms in greater depth until eleventh grade. By then, a lot of girls have already had to face this decision. While it makes sense for teenagers to avoid pregnancy, that does not mean that teen parenting should be ostracized. There is a stereotype that teen moms are reckless girls who are too naïve to deal with the consequences of their mistakes. This is a pigeonhole that is perpetuated by the taboo of teen parents in society. Sixty two percent of high school seniors have had sexual intercourse, while seven percent of girls become pregnant. Unfortunately, twelve percent of girls in grades 9-12 reported to being sexually abused. Rape can often result in pregnancy, and these girls should be supported by their peers, not condemned. Also, teen moms are doing an honorable thing by keeping their child. Many girls put their children up for adoption in order to offer their baby a better life, which also allows a couple to raise a child if they cannot on their own. If the mom wants to raise the child herself, she is rearranging her entire life for her son or daughter and should be commended for accepting such a big responsibility at such a young age. For example, Dr. Nicole Better Fitzhugh gave birth to her daughter at the age of seventeen. She raised three children as a single mother, earned a doctorate degree in higher education from George Mason University, gone through a divorce, survived breast cancer, and wrote two books while she was at it. Dr. Better’s triumph defies all odds and stereotypes.
Although I had no experience with teen moms before my involvement with YoungLives, I felt an immediate connection to the work YoungLives does. I think that being a girl around the same age as the moms helped me see eye-to-eye with them because adolescence, specifically for girls, is more difficult than it is made out to be. I think that after spending so much time with WyldLife girls and being a teenager myself, I’ve realized that adolescence is a disorienting time for girls. Everyone has problems that we hide under façades, but through this they develop character and find out who they are. Pregnant girls do not have this advantage. They must make decisions that will impact not only them, but their baby, for the rest of their lives. Lucy Hayward Droege, director of YoungLives in Plainfield NJ, said to a group of teen moms, “We don’t put these events together for you because we feel sorry for you. We don’t. We just plain love you.” After spending time with and talking to a few of the girls, I don’t feel sorry for them either. They are brave beyond their years and mothers to beautiful children.
After four years of being involved with Young Life, I have made a lot of memories and friends that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. Whether it was getting pied in the face at WyldLife club or having the best week of my life at Saranac Village Young Life Camp, this community is what made high school special for me. Now I’m off to a Young Life barbecue at college. Young Life has given so much to me, and nothing would make me happier than giving back to that community.