Nineteen-year-old senior Sara Espinoza squeezes past a classmate's swollen belly and heads down the hallway to a wall plastered in long trails of white paper. Each strip is a time line crafted by Florence Crittenton students to mark their lives' highs ("first boyfriend") and lows ("my mom married a monster"). At some point in the dips and swirls, each one has a common theme: "I was pregnant."
Florence Crittenton, located in southwest Denver, is a partnership between Denver Public Schools and the nonprofit Parent Pathways to provide an alternative education opportunity for teen mothers. For its students, pregnancy and late-night diaper changes—and midterms—are the norm. These young moms are among the more than 6,700 women under the age of 20 who give birth in Colorado each year. Nationwide, teen pregnancy is on the rise for the first time in more than a dozen years, and Denver County has one of the highest teen birth rates in the state.
Across the metro area, volunteers help young parents adjust to their new roles by supporting programs like St. Anthony Central Hospital's Bloom and Florence Crittenton, which teach teens everything from breast-feeding to balancing a budget. "The economy has hit everyone hard, but there is an added pressure for the students," says principal Donna Campanella, who says that about 90 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches. "Families are pulled between school and the very real need for money and food."
The school relies on donations and contributions—which make up more than 39 percent of its revenue—to keep teen mothers enrolled, as well as incentives like holiday giveaways and in-house daycare. It all appears to be working: Last year, 93 percent of the Florence Crittenton senior class graduated, and more than 80 percent had employment or post-secondary education plans.
That kind of success will continue this year when Sara Espinoza graduates. After dropping out of school when she became pregnant during her sophomore year, Espinoza came to Florence Crittenton for support and a second chance at an education. She now coos about her two-year-old son, Noah, in the same breath as she explains her plans to become a social worker. "School showed me that college was not only an option," says Espinoza. "It was a must." —Natasha Gardner
A new program at St. Anthony Central Hospital, Bloom, helps teen mothers through after-school programs and in-home visits. Support Bloom's efforts by donating gifts like baby clothes, books, and even haircuts. 303-629-3839, www.stanthonycentral.org/bloom
Wrap Join the volunteer crew at Parent Pathways on December 15 as they wrap donated presents for the Florence Crittenton families during the Holiday Helping Hands campaign. 303-321-6363, www.parentpathways.org
Become an individual sponsor of the Colorado Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting, and Prevention. This consulting group sponsors an education conference, prepares an annual report on the state of adolescent sexual health, and provides outreach to teen-parent service organizations. 303-225-8870, www.coappp.org
Volunteer Colorado Bright Beginnings has helped support and educate more than 125,000 families—including teen parents—during the first three years of their children's development. Sign up to help with home visits and group training. 303-433-6200, www.brightbeginningsco.org