Rose of Sharon has helped teen mothers for 25 years

  • April 29, 2010
Rose of SharonNEWMARKET, Ont. - When Tabatha Spooner was 16 years old she imagined herself becoming a dance instructor. That was when she was just a kid. Now, she has a kid. His name is Joshua Crilly and he’s 14 months old.

Having a child has changed a lot of things in 19-year-old Spooner’s life. The biggest change is her mind.

Spooner now dreams of a job that’s less about her and more about the people she sees around her. When the 19-year-old graduates from high school this year she plans to enroll in courses that will prepare her to work as a personal support worker helping disabled kids.

It’s not just because Spooner has a cousin with spinal bifida and she’s seen how important support workers are to making his life better. Being a pregnant teenager has also taught her what it’s like to be on the outside, ignored, avoided and often subject to harsh judgment.

“I was once bullying these (disabled) kids,” she said. “Now that I’m a mother, I see. We’re all the same.”

As a young mother and a pregnant teen, Spooner has endured the stares and comments, and she’s found out who her real friends are. Some of her real friends are the other young mothers at Rose of Sharon in Newmarket, and some of her friends are the counsellors and volunteers who have helped her work out how she’s going to live her life.

On April 25 Rose of Sharon celebrated 25 years of helping young women face unexpected pregnancy. The Mass with Toronto Auxiliary Bishop Peter Hundt and luncheon to follow was planned as a preview to Mother’s Day.

Spooner’s story, and her transformation, is nothing unusual in the 25-year history of Rose of Sharon, according to executive director Anna Pavan.

Though many of the young women served by Rose of Sharon fall into the expected pattern — poor girls who never really had a positive experience in school, girls with no sense of a future they could control — every story is individual, said Pavan.

“We’ve had the young mom who comes in who was living on the street, under the Rainbow Bridge in Richmond Hill,” Pavan said. “We’ve had the honour student who comes from a two-parent family.”

The one thing they all have in common is the experience of being shunned, rejected and judged.

“You made your bed, now lie in it — that’s the attitude,” said Pavan.

Last year, Rose of Sharon helped 350 young mothers up to the age of 25. Counselling, nutrition advice, baby clothes, toys, food and assistance finding housing can all be found at Rose of Sharon. But the program, now running out of four sites, in Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Georgina and Vaughan, aims higher than a little stop-gap charity here and there.

The organization tries to give girls a sense of their own self-worth and hope for the future, a sense of purpose.

That starts with basics — getting them through high school with the help of a “Section 23” classroom. The classroom comes with a teacher who helps the young women get through correspondence courses so they can graduate.

Rose of Sharon trains the young mothers in basics of public speaking, so the girls can go into Catholic classrooms throughout York Region and talk to students not much younger than them about the realities of raising a kid at an age when your peers are planning for their prom. The public speaking program is the main reason the agency is known in the community.

With outreach programs that send counsellors to meet the pregnant teens and young moms, Rose of Sharon hopes to be there for even more young women in the future. The agency has added counsellors who speak Chinese and several South Asian languages, growing populations in York Region.

Rose of Sharon finds itself the only area agency dedicated to helping young mothers be better mothers and live better lives. It’s a tough niche for the girls, who know exactly what other people are thinking as their bellies rise, or when they’re out with their babies. Ashley Medina, 18, mother of 13-month-old Aliyah Barrientos, remembers what she thought of girls who get pregnant in high school.

“I was always thinking, ‘What were they thinking? What are they doing? Where are their parents?’ ” she said.

Jenn Cox, 18, mother of seven-month-old Hope Cameron, remembers all the friends who were happy for her and promised to help her with babysitting.

“They disappeared,” she said.

Without Rose of Sharon, Cox doesn’t think she could finish high school.

“I would be nowhere near school,” she said.

She describes her life as “just stopped” and hopes that her daughter will discover the freedom she’s lost.

“I want her to go further in life than me. I know I’m not going to go to college or university.”

Without Rose of Sharon, Malina Thompson, 19, doesn’t think she or her one-year-old son Michael Bryan would have the support they need.

“We wouldn’t have any support, except family — that is, if the family supports,” she said.

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