When Alyssa Horton became pregnant during her junior year at Naperville Central High School, she thought she was the only Naperville teen who was pregnant.
“I felt like I was going to go through it completely alone,” she said.
And when the school social worker referred her to Glen Ellyn-based Teen Parent Connection, it still wasn’t enough.
“It was nice to hear, but I still felt alone,” she said.
Finally, when Horton attended a support group in Naperville for other pregnant teens, she saw others faced with the same challenges. And it helped because she couldn’t relate to her friends anymore since her world had changed so drastically.
But it wasn’t just receiving support through the birth of her twin sons, now four, that the organization helped her with: she also received guidance on child development and parenting.
“I didn’t know any of that,” said Horton, who graduated early from Central in 2010. “I hadn’t thought about it before.”
Becky Beilfuss, the executive director of Teen Parent Connection, knows that, while the support for pregnant teens is important, so is teaching them parenting skills after the birth.
“There are a myriad of poor outcomes for teen parents,” Beilfuss said.
These include: children of teen parents are twice as likely to be abused or neglected because the parents aren’t aware of the resources available to them, and they don’t have the knowledge or skills to be parents.
“They aren’t ready to nurture the needs of their own children,” Beilfuss said, “and the tasks of their adolescence and parenting are in direct conflict of each other.”
Tori Torrence, who serves as the parent and community engagementcordinator for the organization, knows her job is a unique one.
“I feel privileged to be one of the few people who will say, ‘You can do this,’” she said. “‘It’s a challenge, but I’m going to (be) with you every step of the way.’”
Teen Parent Connection serves teens ages 12 to 22, educating them on what to expect during pregnancy and childbirth as well as how to care for the newborn. And while they work with the new parents on developing parenting skills, they also help them set goals, usually related to child development. Finally, they help the teen parents graduate from high school and find their first jobs.
“Our over-reaching goal is to prevent child abuse and neglect,” Torrence said.
While financial help is always appreciated, there are other ways people can help Teen Parent Connection.
“We need volunteers to donate hot meals for our support groups,” Torrence said.
Gift cards to purchase meals also are helpful.
There are five support groups in the county, and the organization needs child care during those groups so teens can meet with other teens experiencing what they are but also know their children are safe. The meetings serve as breaks for the teens, too. Typically, 10 to 15 teens attend each support group.
And the organization has a store on site where the teens can use “baby bucks” to purchase things they need like diapers. Donated baby items are appreciated as well.
Horton received so much support, making a difference in her life, that today she works on staff for Teen Parent Connection as a peer educator. She travels around the county to schools and talks about her experiences as a teen mom. By telling her story, she hopes to keep other teens from becoming pregnant.
“It’s about how it affected my goals and my reality,” she said finding that she can have an open discussion with the group, usually a health class. She believes teens relate to her story far more than statistics.
Ultimately, Teen Parent Connection helped Horton on her journey to becoming a parent at a much sooner time in her life than she planned.
“I felt confident and powerful,” she said.