I sat in my advisor’s office, holding my breath as she prepared to give me feedback on the latest version of my master’s thesis. But before she could launch into her suggestions on what to change and what to keep, she had something else to share with me.
“I spoke with the local department of job and family services,” she said, “and they’re looking to do some proactive programming with our student-parents. It seems they have noticed an increase of child abuse reports during midterms and finals week. Perhaps this is something you could tackle with them?”
My thesis topic—the types of emotional and social support student-parents need as they pursue their college degrees—certainly seemed to fit. Often, student-parents are stressed on a daily basis as they juggle their roles as loving parent and model student. When the pressure in one role increases, the other role tends to get the short stick. During midterms and finals, when stress levels hit the roof, it is not hard to imagine a young parent buckling under the pressure.
That is when I conceived of Young Mom Summit, a one-day conference for young mothers, held March 29, 2014. It was designed to connect them with community resources and give them space to learn from other young mothers who have walked in their shoes. It was the first offline event I have hosted since I founded TheYoungMommyLife.com, an online support network for young mothers under 25, in 2008. A young mother (and former student-parent) myself, I intimately knew the struggles of young parenthood and wanted to put my knowledge and skills to use to address the issues.
The planning was deliberate. Each of the sessions was led by a former young mother whom I felt would best be equipped to address the needs of attendees. The summit featured three 45-minute workshops on stress management, financial literacy, and career guidance, followed by an hour-long luncheon discussion on persistence while progressing through school. Planned Parenthood and the local department of jobs and family services were both on hand to sit and talk with attendees about their services.
The first event, based in Northeast Ohio at Kent State University, drew 50 participants from three states. The summit garnered in-kind support from Fortune 500 companies and local institutions including Cedar Point, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
The first person through the door was a 16-year-old pregnant with triplets. She lived about 45 minutes away and the fact that she made it to an event on a Saturday morning (in spite of the fact that she doesn’t yet have her driver’s license) let me know that there is a great need for this type of programming.
Several attendees have followed up with me and told me they have put the tips they learned to good use, particularly from the stress management workshop. Our presenter suggested building a “Destress Toolbox.” Our workshop on finances prompted many to revamp their budgets. The career workshop gave one attendee the push she needed to open her own crafting business. But perhaps the outcome I’m most excited about is that the 16-year-old with the triplets connected with one of the presenters who is the director of a local teen parenting group. She has now been attending their monthly club workshops.
My overall goal for the Young Mom Summit is for it to become a national event. With enough interest, we would also be able to provide a “Kids Summit,” where the children of attendees would have fun, hands-on activities while their moms are next door – making it truly two-generational.
I also look forward to collaborating with publishers to provide books for participants’ children, forming local support groups for the women to “check in” between events, and a yearly scholarship for young women to continue their education. Now I’m gathering valuable feedback from attendees of the first summit and other young mothers nationwide to design an event in2015 that truly speaks to their needs. It will be a “for us, by us” gathering where young mothers will feel comfortable and embraced in their journey toward educational success and economic security.