Pointing young mothers toward self-sufficiency Essex: The Young Parent Support Center, puts day care, child development and adult education under one roof to help move young mothers off welfare.

October 17, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Tanesha Scott, a 20-year-old mother of two, represents the promise -- and challenges -- facing clients at the Young Parent Support Center in Essex.

Four days a week, Scott visits the office on Back River Neck Road for math and writing classes, while her 6-month-old son, Tyreek, stays in the center's gaily decorated child care center and her 4-year-old attends pre-kindergarten at nearby Mars Estates Elementary School.

Her family is among 80 being served by the Essex operation, which puts day care, child development, adult education and other support services under one roof to help move young mothers off welfare and into the work world.

The task can be daunting, complicated by the problems and changing circumstances of the young mothers served by the center, one of 25 similar operations statewide.

Scott, for example, left the center two years ago without taking her high school equivalency test, then had her second baby.

"I kind of chickened out of taking the test," she said sheepishly, holding bubbly 6-month-old Tyreek in her lap. "I was just nervous."

She has since realized that she must get an equivalency degree to get a decent job and is determined to take the test this time, in December. "You can't survive off social services," Scott said. "I want to become an X-ray technician."

Funded through donations and $361,000 in grants, the center works with nearly 300 families annually. Most mothers attend for three to six months.

The program includes a playground for the children; daily free lunches; child-development counseling, classes on seeking jobs, preventing pregnancy and academic subjects; and general support from 16 part-time employees. It also offers van transportation.

The center -- like a nearby Police Athletic League program for school-age children -- is part of the county's effort to battle social problems in the poorer, aging suburbs near Baltimore.

"You have got to address young children born to young mothers," said County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Such centers "stabilize a community without other resources," said Camille Wheeler, the county social services director. "It's a positive place for people who don't have many positive experiences."

The Essex program continues to grow. Yesterday, a 15-computer Technology Learning Center, donated through the county library system by the Microsoft Corp., officially opened.

Officials hope to open a center in the southwestern part of the county next year, said Wheeler and Marci Van De Mark, director of the Essex center.

"People who come to the center are people who want to make changes in their lives," Van De Mark said.

Helping them do so can require extensive support from the center's staff.

Issy Ferraro, 24, coordinator of the center's Parents as Teachers program, visits the sometimes chaotic homes of her mostly teen-age clients, many of whom live with extended families in crowded quarters where they have little control over their lives.

"I try to teach patience, empower them to be positive role models," said Ferraro.

She recalled encouraging a teen-age mother to feed her 4-month old baby formula and baby food instead of the cookies or candy bars the child's grandmother insisted were fine.

"They're repeating what occurred to them," she said of her young clients.

At the center, Pat Newell, Tammy Keller and the other child-development specialists assess the children, looking for those who are delayed physically or verbally. They teach children such things as colors, shapes, letters and social skills.

On a recent day, three 3-year-olds sat at a tiny table with Keller, trying to match a picture of an alphabet block in a book with an identical puzzlelike piece.

Down a short hall and around the corner, the mother of one of them, Debbie Tyc, 27, sat with 10 other women, working on a computer to ready herself for a high school equivalency test.

"I'm going to go through and get a job," said Tyc, who dropped out of seventh grade at Canton Middle School in Baltimore and had her first child at age 17. Now, after a divorce and two years on welfare, she is trying to find a way out.

The center also has drawn attention from residents elsewhere in the county.

Outside the center recently, Betsy Woods, a Cockeysville mother of four, unloaded bags of children's clothing and equipment donated by friends and neighbors. A friend who is a social worker told her about the center, and Woods said she is happy to help.

"I know they appreciate everything you bring," she said.

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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