Here to help: Brunswick County non-profit aims for long-term support of teen parents

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A teen being served by Samara's Village looks out at the horizon. The goal of the fledgling Brunswick County non-profit is to help teen parents realize childbirth doesn't have to permanently change plans for the future. Photo by CLT Photography.
A teen being served by Samara’s Village looks out at the horizon. The goal of the fledgling Brunswick County non-profit is to help teen parents realize childbirth doesn’t have to permanently change plans for the future. Photo by CLT Photography.

It was anecdotal evidence that first prompted Kathrine White to do reach out to pregnant teens in Brunswick County.

As she settled into the small coastal town of Southport, White was struck by how the issue followed her wherever she went. Whether she was picking up a carton of milk, grabbing a cup of coffee or taking a morning stroll downtown, what she saw and heard about young mothers and fathers puzzled her.

And there was one question she kept asking others: Who is here to help?

The common answer—no one—was one White could not accept.

So, joining forces with three other women, the mother and former service woman stepped up to ensure teen parents didn’t let their mistake set them on the wrong path.

White is part of the founding team of Samara’s Village, a teen-specific outreach that provides long-term support, education and resources to both mothers and fathers. The organization earned its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in December and is currently trying to raise funds for a brick-and-mortar facility and other needs.

White acknowledges personal faith played a role in her decision to do something—a role quietly referenced in the name of the group (Samara means “protected by God”). But that’s where the affiliation with religion ends, she added, noting that Samara’s Village is secular in nature.

Driven as she was by the stories of strangers, and by what she calls “God moments”—instances too significant to be coincidence—White had an even deeper connection to teen pregnancy.

Her brother became a father before he hit 20 , but it proved to be more a bump in the road than a permanent barrier to his future plans. He and the mother of his first child have been married for a decade and gone on to have two more children. He was also able to finish college and find a fulfilling career.

But, White said, her brother and sister-in-law had something many in their situation don’t.

“I’ve seen it done successfully but they were successful because of the support around them,” she noted.

Even with all that support, White added, her sister in-law “still felt incredibly isolated and incredibly alone.”

So, as she began bouncing around the idea of Samara’s Village with friend Jean-Marie Lee, a social worker, White quickly realized that, to help teen parents beat the odds, she would need to take a broader approach.

Lee got on board to offer her expertise in countering the many emotions young mothers and fathers face—loneliness, anxiety and depression among them. The pair eventually enlisted the help of nurse Jaime Meirs, who was also had a child as a teenager, and Donna Robey-Sullivan, who brought her extensive non-profit experience and knowledge to the table. White said with her own business savvy and military-honed knack for organization thrown into the mix, Samara’s Village is primed to achieve its purpose.

“That’s what I want people to understand, that, yes, we are a new organization but we’ve got the pieces in place already. There are no gaps. We’ve got that medical piece, got that mental health piece…This is not just one person who has this great idea and doesn’t know where to go with it. We have everything set up so we can execute it,” she said.

The plan is to guide teen mothers for 3.5 years, and fathers for two, through their myriad of services: prenatal education, referrals to government aid like WIC and Medicaid, childbirth classes, counseling, home visits, life skills courses and support with their classroom studies. It’s all done in a safe, comfortable environment among other pregnant peers, White said. The only caveat is teens reach out to Samara’s Village while pregnant, not after childbirth.

“This isn’t just, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you a class and send you on your way.’ This is us coming along beside them…and really empowering them to get there,” White said.

That empowerment extends to the dads, who often aren’t part of the conversation. That, White said, can lead to a single-parent outcome for life.

“They often feel like they can’t provide and so it’s a pride issue,” she said of young fathers. “And then it becomes easier to just step out of the picture rather than step in and have their pride hurt…We want them to understand that just being present is so important.”

And it’s important to White to educate all Brunswick County residents that the official numbers on teen pregnancies can be misleading. Although her observational data was certainly supported by those hard figures, White believes many more girls—some as young as late adolescence—are giving birth than appear on paper.

On average, 100 Brunswick County teens give birth each year in a three-year period, a distinction White said addresses the upswings and dips that seem to happen within that timeframe.

But relying on NC State Center for Health Statistics’ annual report, commonly referred to as “The Baby Book,” is not enough, she added.

“They don’t report anything under the age of 15. We currently have two 13-year-olds and a 14-year-old in Brunswick County who are pregnant but none of those will be in the report,” she said.

The Samara’s Village team has reached out to ob/gyn offices in Brunswick County to help get a more accurate picture and White is hoping do the same in New Hanover. That’s because “The Baby Book” counts teen births in the county where it happens, not where the mothers reside. White said right now, there are at least 42 pregnant teens in Brunswick County, not counting those who may be traveling over the bridge in Wilmington to be seen by a doctor.

“That’s where my relationship building with New Hanover ob/gyns will come into play. We want to bring attention to the real numbers,” she said.

Samara’s Village has already rolled out some of its programs, like a teen childbirth, infant care and breastfeeding class, which gets underway June 1. Those interested in attending can call (910) 294-0292 or email contact@samarasvillage.org for details.

But others, like in-home visits and onsite counseling, require money for training and an actual building. The organization is currently trying to collect $25,000 in donations, an in-kind contribution that would be required to receive a larger three-year grant from the NC Health and Human Services Department’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiatives agency.

It’s a cause White hopes residents will get behind because it’s one that could mean the difference between a temporary setback and a permanent obstacle to a stable home life, gainful employment and personal fulfillment.

“I could list off all the data on teen parents but let’s face it, we all know there are lots of checks in the box against you in that situation,” she said. “That’s where we come in, to say, ‘How do we make the most of this situation?’ and ‘Yes, your life looks different now but different doesn’t mean you can’t succeed’.”

To find out more about Samara’s Village or make a donation, visit the organization’s website.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.

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