A door to hope opens Family center offers education for young parents

February 07, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

One credit away from graduation, Keena Wallace had to quit school at Westminster High because her toddler son's baby sitter quit on short notice.

"So after Christmas vacation, I didn't go back," she said.

Fifteen months ago, she had another son.

Miss Wallace always wanted to go back to school or get a General Educational Development certificate.

"I really liked school," she said. But she never was able to %J coordinate time, transportation and child care.

Now the Carroll County Family Center helps her resolve those problems, and throws in some extra help with support groups and classes on parenting skills, cooking and nutrition.

And the price is right. It's all free.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday drew supporters from local and state government and private agencies that helped get the center started last fall.

Some limited programs began in October, even before the space was ready on the third floor of the Barrel House at 10 Distillery Drive. Renovations were completed last month.

The new center includes classrooms, a lounge, offices and a spacious day care and play area for children while their parents are using the services there.

Teen-age and young adult parents -- mostly mothers at this point, but the center is planning to reach out to more fathers -- can come in for structured classes to prepare for GED tests.

They also can take courses in other areas that help them become better parents and deal with the stresses of everyday life.

"We offer life skills," said Susan Mitchell, the center's director. Financial help includes how to get the most for their money, for example.

She said the center already serves about 177 "participants," including about a dozen who attend the GED classes regularly.

Parents Anonymous, a statewide support group for parents, meets there. That group's mission is to prevent child abuse.

Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., which sponsors the center, had often applied to the state for a grant to start it, but the grants were always denied.

This year the agency won approval and $150,000 from the Department of Human Resources. The money actually came from another private, non-profit agency called Friends of the Family.

That group, which is based in Baltimore, contracts with the state to run 14 similar centers throughout the state.

In addition to receiving the state grant, the Carroll County Family Center gets $24,000 from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to send workers to young parents' homes to help them cope with raising their children, and $15,000 through another state grant to pay for counselors.

Asked how they would pursue their high school-equivalency certificates without the family center, Miss Wallace and Dawn Cowan both answered, almost in unison: "We wouldn't."

Mrs. Cowan, 19, dropped out of school at age 16, about a year before she became pregnant with her daughter, now 2.

"I didn't feel like going," she said. She always had meant to get a GED

certificate, but never got around to it.

She and her husband live in Gaither. They expect their second baby in the spring.

Miss Wallace and Mrs. Cowan share an ambitious goal to become lawyers so they can provide well for their children and be good role models for them, they said.

"You tell your children they have to be in school every day, and they think, 'Well, what does Mommy do all day? Sit home and watch soap operas?' " Mrs. Cowan said.

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