Project helps young couple with work, parental skills

INDEPENDENCE, STEP BY STEP

November 15, 1994|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Sun Staff Writer

Each week Samala and Douglas Blake are taking small steps toward independence.

They are working on a budget and thinking about moving out of Doug's father's home and into their own apartment by Christmas. Doug, 21, has a good job. And Sam, 18, has given birth to their baby girl, Darion.

"A year ago, I never thought I'd be here," Doug said as he glanced proudly at his wife and child. "I thought I would be a single guy, going out to go-gos and acting crazy. But I have changed into something very important: a husband and a father."

It hasn't been easy getting to this point. Yet, taking couples like the Blakes and giving them a chance is the goal of the Community-Directed Assistance Program.

"They've lost so much over the years, things we've learned, that we just sort of take for granted," said Edward R. Bloom, director of social services for Anne Arundel County.

Even the most motivated families need months of hands-on help from community sponsors to complete basic tasks such as finding housing and work. The program, conceived by Mr. Bloom, gives them six months to become self-sufficient. It is labor-intensive, employing the resources of community sponsors and social workers.

Five families are in the program. Seven more will start by January. The Blakes were the first.

They are in close contact with their team of six volunteers from Second Chance Ministries, a Christian community service organization in Annapolis. Second Chance agreed to sponsor the Blakes and has helped Doug find a $7-an-hour job making clothing racks for a north county manufacturing firm. Doug, who dropped out of high school, didn't have a job when he started the program.

The county Department of Social Services is arranging for Sam to start taking a class next month that will train her to become a licensed day care provider. She'll also learn how to take care of Darion, who was born Aug. 27.

"I think they are doing great," Remy Whaley, a case worker at the Department of Social Services, said of the Blakes' progress. "I have noticed a big change in Doug's attitude. He is willing to take responsibility and his self-confidence has improved."

For Doug, this new world of adult responsibilities means balancing work and family, and taking care of chores such as getting car insurance and a high school equivalency diploma.

During a sponsor meeting at his father's house, a small rancher on Cypress Road, he talked enthusiastically about his job, about getting promoted, even going to college to learn computer skills. He wants to operate more sophisticated machinery at the plant.

Doug drilled on GED

Samuel Hawkins, an engineer at the Naval Academy and member of the sponsor team, drilled Doug on his plans to take the General Educational Development test for a high school diploma.

"That's got to come first, Doug," he said of the test, which Doug seemingly had put on the back burner. "You can't move on without that."

It was one more task for Doug, one more bit of pressure.

"It's so much for one person," he said. "Sam doesn't worry about the same things I do. She has the baby. I have to make sure they eat, have clothing and are happy."

He wakes every morning at 6:30 a.m., dresses, helps with Darion and drives to work. After work, he is expected to study for his GED and, of course, help with Darion. But his main role is to be the breadwinner.

Sam's role is to take care of Darion, though she will contribute to the family accounts once she gets her day care license.

Darion, who was born at Harbor Hospital Center after 14 hours of labor, has presented the Blakes with the awesome responsibility of caring for a new life. At first, she was easy to care for. She slept most of the time and ate on a regular schedule.

Then she started vomiting for no apparent reason. Sam rushed her to the pediatrician.

"She's throwing up, and she's got a cold," Sam told the assistant who checked the baby.

A confused conversation about preparing infant formula began. Sam had been making 8-ounce bottles, even though Darion consumed only 4 ounces at each feeding. She left the bottle out between feedings.

The assistant told her the milk could spoil, causing Darion's problem. She needed to make smaller bottles or refrigerate the leftover formula. And the formula could only be reheated once.

Much to learn

This was all new for Sam. She thought she knew how to care for babies because she had watched her nephews, nieces and cousins. But after the formula incident, it was clear she had much to learn.

During another sponsor's meeting last month, Doug talked excitedly about his job, buying a new car and renting an apartment. He had hoped they could move out of his father's home and spend their first Thanksgiving as a family in a new apartment. Mr. Hawkins thinks it will be closer to Christmas.

Talk of the apartment led Mr. Hawkins to the subject of the family budget. While Doug proudly pointed out his plans to save $150 a month, Mr. Hawkins explained there "was more to it than that."

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