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Planned Parenthood Program Transforms Teen Mom’s Future

Each month, when Ericka Jones prepares for her two-day rotation at the Fairfield National Guard Armory, she is reminded of how far she’s come since the days when she was a bewildered 15-year-old mother.

That was three years ago, and she thought her life had hit a dead-end. Though she had been an A-student at her Sacramento high school, she felt pressured by her friends to have sex, got pregnant at 14 and saw her prospects plunge from "golden girl" to "at-risk drop-out."

Then she found Planned Parenthood’s Teen Success program through a local resource agency and a friend who attended a group. Now she is a woman in uniform who is headed to college and building a solid future for herself and her son.

Sponsored by Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, Teen Success was launched two decades ago as a peer support and resource program to help adolescent mothers by urging them to stay in school and delay having more children until finishing their education.

Now, Ericka is one of more than 80 percent of this year’s nearly 400 participants in Teen Success, at 21 sites throughout PPMM’s region of mid-California and northern Nevada, who has finished high school and plans to pursue her education.

That’s especially impressive in the face of national statistics showing that two thirds of teen mothers who are old enough to complete high school don’t even graduate.

Recently, Ericka also was awarded one of PPMM’s 30 Morgan Scholarships to help with expenses during her fall term at Sacramento’s Kaplan University, where she plans to study criminal justice.

But, in 2007, even finishing her sophomore year of high school seemed unlikely to Ericka when she and her son, Amiir arrived on the bus for her first day at Teen Success.

Her mother’s disappointment in her and her classmates’ taunts in the hallways at school had battered her self-esteem. Frightened, alone and broke, it was the $10 incentive for coming to the Teen Success group that attracted her in the beginning. But, like so many other participants, the stipend isn’t why she stayed.

Other young moms in her group changed her perspective. One by one, she listened to them speak about the challenges they had faced and how they leaned on each other for support. They talked about staying healthy, how to be better parents and how to protect themselves from destructive relationships.

“I was the last to speak, and I just started crying,” Ericka said. “I let it all out – all the problems I had been facing with my mother and at school and trying to be a good parent. I felt immediately accepted. It’s like I had found my family.”

Ericka left that day with plenty of support, phone numbers and “lots of hugs” from other members of the group, and she spoke to them often. She began getting jobs to support Amiir – whether it was baby-sitting or cleaning up the store at her neighborhood Dollar Tree. And she started to focus on her school work again. She was on her way back.

Now Ericka and Amiir live in a rented apartment in Sacramento, and Amiir is enrolled in pre-school. Ericka reads Dr. Seuss books to her 3-year-old and is saving for a fund for his future. She’s looking hard for a week-day job to help put herself through Kaplan as she plans a career as a police officer.

She’s come a long way since being that scared pregnant girl who was jeered at and written off. And she’s learned enough to give some stern advice to her younger sister: “This is not the time to be having sex. You should be focused on school and being something in your life. But if you are going to have sex, be safe.”

Ericka is concentrating on ensuring the safety of her son, her community and her country. She said she couldn’t have done it without her support group. She’s ready to make a good life for Amiir: “I have his back,” she said, “like Teen Success had mine.”

Raquel Simental is Director of Public Affairs in the Sacramento-Sierra Region, which includes Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado, and Yolo Counties.

Planned Parenthood Mar Monte improves the lives of over 350,000 people annually in 40 counties in mid-California and in Northern Nevada. We reach people through our medical services, education programs, and advocacy initiatives.

Our mission is to ensure that every individual has the knowledge, opportunity, and freedom to make every child a wanted child, and every family a healthy family.

To find a Planned Parenthood near you, call our Facts of Life Line at 1-800-711-948.


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