For young parents in college, the path to graduation is cluttered with roadblocks. Keeping up with classes, earning enough income, and finding reliable and quality child care are just a few obstacles.
But organizations like Generation Hope help to ease the way. Since 2010, the nonprofit organization has served more than 300 teen parents and their families in the Washington, D.C., metro area with wraparound service programs through its Scholar Program.
After more than a decade, Generation Hope is expanding to New Orleans with hopes of helping aspiring young college students and their families.
“What we know from our work in the D.C. region is that we have seen that this holistic wraparound support really makes a difference for young parents,” said Nicole Lynn Lewis, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Generation Hope.
Services include mental health support through virtual individual and group sessions for families, career guidance for finding jobs and internships, free tutoring and one-on-one mentorship. The program also provides $1,200 a year in scholarship money for students and $2,400 a year for those at four-year colleges. Emergency funding is also available to deal with financial crises.
The Scholar program is funded through a network of donors.
A former teen mother herself, Lewis understands the barriers to obtaining a college degree as a young parent, especially for students of color and those in marginalized communities.
An honor roll student, Lewis had been accepted into several different colleges when she became pregnant in her senior year of high school. Becoming a mother changed the trajectory of her path to pursuing post-secondary education. She experienced the struggles and stigmas of being a parent in college.
“I heard the same message that a lot of young women hear in that situation, which is, ‘Your life is over.’ ‘You’re not gonna go to college.’ ‘You’re not gonna be successful,’” Lewis said.
From not being able to afford diapers, to not having food to eat, and even being “homeless for periods of time,” Lewis understands the resources needed for teen parents “taking care of a child, but also trying to work towards that goal of getting a degree.”
She created Generation Hope to empower young parents to earn their college degrees. The Scholars program offers everything she needed to succeed — mentoring, financial resources and emotional support.
As Lewis looked to expand the program to New Orleans, she believed it was important for it to be in a community where there are “leaders on the ground already doing great work that was complementary to what we do at Generation Hope,” she said.
New Orleans has similar programs such as the NEST, a child care support service. NEST is part of the NET, an “alternative school” organized by Educators for Quality Alternatives Schools. The program helps young parents in middle and high school.
The need for more holistic programs is critical for student success, said Kim Legaux, district counseling and support services coordinator for EQA. She noted that there are fewer programs that offer families nutrition and child care assistance.
“I think a lot of people are realizing the challenges that we have today, things that were available then are so hard to come by now,” Legaux said.
Ninety percent of the students supported in Generation Hope’s Scholar program are young mothers like Julia Essome, 25, who has been in the program since last summer. She has struggled to find a tutor while raising 2-year-old twins and her 5-year-old son. Essome also wants to spend more time with her children.
“Most of the time the tutoring at my college will be either after school or around 7 p.m., when I should be home with my kids or when I should be picking them up from the [day care] center,” Essome said.
Generation Hope has a tutoring program that “will come to you,” she said.
As a Generation Hope Scholar, Essome was given the resources to focus on school. Within months of enrolling in the program, her life changed, she said. She remembered days when she was “not able to pay rent” to now “having my associate degree and being able to work in the health care field.”
Lewis hopes to bring that same kind of success to young parents in New Orleans. Legaux says the kind of consistent support that Generation Hope offers students is key. She emphasized that some students will still need certain levels of support beyond graduation.
Generation Hope’s program can be the bridge for young parents pursuing higher education and hope for a brighter future.
“As a young parent, it has empowered me to be strong and to continue reaching for my goal,” Essome said.
More information on the program, including how to donate is available at the Generation Hope website.
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