Mentors keep relationships well beyond pregnancy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Every year, hundreds of girls in the Metro Nashville School District will become pregnant and face the struggles that come along with preparing for their child's arrival.

One area clinic has been making it their mission to keep the soon-to-be mothers in school and provide them with health care and a long-lasting relationship that extends well beyond the nine months.

Carrie Springer is a 15-year-old freshman at Stratford High School and pregnant with her second child.

At 14, Springer delivered her first child.  The child died shortly after from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

“I'm very scared,” she told News 2.  “I worry about stuff that I didn't worry about at first.”

Patrice Whitaker works with United Neighborhood Health Services as a mentor to pregnant teens and works to keep them in school.
 
“We do or try to work as an advocate for the students in school because they do miss a lot of days,” she said.  “Even though I'm there encouraging them, you might have morning sickness but you'll get over it, as an advocate, [I tell them] come to school [and] do your work.”

Getting pregnant teens to stay in class and get an education is one of the most important goals of the Teens Taking Charge program at United Neighborhood Health Services.

“We want to make sure they're prepared to go on to a better and brighter future and we try to prepare them for that,” explained Lynn Stuart, Director of Teen Services.

He and Whitaker visit teens like Springer at her home as often as they can.

“We try to make our home visits to make sure certain things are taken care of, that they're very well informed, not just from a health standpoint, but from a nutritional standpoint,” Stuart said.

Springer said she appreciates the guidance.

“I'm glad I have [Patrice] and Lynn and everybody else in my life, because I don't know where I'd be right now,” she said.

Without help, Springer would likely drop out of school and would not get the prenatal care she needs for her unborn child.

“It's every aspect of their life that we support them with, not only them, but their families also.”

Stuart sees teen pregnancy as more than just a school issue, but as a community issue that fills the doctor's offices at their clinic every single day.

“I think if more of the issues were addressed as far as lifestyle issues, community issues, then you could definitely break the cycle,” he said.

Leilani Underwood is a prime example of that philosophy.

The 28-year-old is now married with four children but her life would likely have turned out much different without the Teens Taking Charge program.

Underwood got pregnant at age 14 but with Stuart's help, she graduated from high school, got a job and waited to have more children until she was ready to emotionally and financially support them.

“If I hadn't had him and the others in my life, then I don't know where I would be today,” she told News 2.

Stuart is now keeping an eye on Underwood's oldest son at school.  He's part of a second generation of teens that Stuart hopes will learn from their parents' mistakes and make better choices.

United Neighborhood Health Services has family clinics across the mid-state and even has clinics in five Metro schools, including Antioch High, Stratford High, Dalewood and Maplewood schools.

More than 3,400 girls became mothers in Tennessee in 2008. Statistics show babies born to teens are more likely to be born prematurely, have health problems, and be abused.

Read more about UNHS and other locations at UnitedNeighborhood.org.

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