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Meet two D.C. nonprofits that don't believe in giving up on young women

Nicole Lynn Lewis founded Generation Hope to help teen parents go on to graduate college

“When I found out that I was expecting, I heard ‘your life is over and college is not a reality for you anymore’,” says Nicole Lynn Lewis, who learned she was pregnant at 18.
It’s a common refrain: When a teenage girl becomes pregnant, her chances of excelling academically and professionally are low compared to peers who don’t give birth at an early age. While this is statistically true, too often, these sentiments are reinforced to young moms by those closest to them--teachers, neighbors, friends and family. 
While the physical, emotional and financial burden of having a child is draining for teen parents, it’s important that they are surrounded by positive influences.
“Far too often, once a young person becomes a teen parent, we give up on them, we stop talking to them about college and their relationships are really damaged--that’s where you go into a danger zone where that young person may go on to have another pregnancy fairly soon,” says Lewis, who went on to found Generation Hope, a D.C.-based non-profit that helps young mothers and fathers graduate college.
Across the country, over a fifth of births to teens in the U.S. are second births, meaning a teen mom who had a second child before turning 20. About a fourth of teenage mothers have a second child within two years.
In her research, Lewis found that the key to reducing multiple births amongst teens lies in the crux of Generation Hope’s programming.
“The most effective ways to prevent subsequent pregnancies are to help teen parents focus on their academic goals--and really goals in general--and also to have healthy relationships with caring adults in their lives,” she says.
Generation Hope, founded in 2010, links “scholars” with adults who become their mentors. Each pair meets in-person at least once per month, whether it’s a trip to get coffee or to the circus with the kids. The mentor is also required to check-in bi-weekly with their scholar via phone, email, social media or any other mode of communication that’s most convenient. The mentor works with their scholar to support them personally and academically up until they graduate from college.
The program currently serves 35 teen mothers and fathers who are attending two and four-year colleges across the D.C. metropolitan area. Lewis hopes to double the program’s enrollment by July 2015. 
Lewis serves as the model that teen parents can achieve. When her daughter was almost 3 months old, she enrolled into the College of William and Mary, graduating in 4 years. She then went on to receive a graduate degree from George Mason University.
“I knew that being a mom, it was going to be that much more important that I go to college, and I knew a college degree would allow me to get a job that could really provide for my daughter in a way that I wouldn’t be able to if I didn't have a degree,” she says. 
Since its existence, three Generation Hope scholars have received bachelor’s degrees.
Along with academic and professional aspirations, independent living is a prominent goal for teen parents.
The Bright Futures Teen Mother’s Program provides that opportunity to ten young mothers who are given their own apartments in the city. While none of the current mothers have given birth to another child while in the program, it has happened with past participants and is still on the radar of staff.
“Our ultimate goal is of course try to prevent our teen mothers from having more children but also to help them become healthy, independent and successful parents,” says Lisa Emmi,  program director at Bright Futures.
A large component of the program is ensuring that youth are fully aware of sexual risks and options. An on-staff nurse works with residents every week, teaching them about contraceptives, family planning options and general sexual health.
“She is available to answer questions and really build relationships with them, says Emmi, “I think that education is really important in helping to prevent further pregnancies.” 
Additionally, residents must participate in weekly sessions focused on topics like self-esteem awareness, healthy decision making, substance abuse awareness, parenting and healthy relationships. 
“It’s important for young mothers to feel consistent support and that they have people they can talk to consistently about how they're feeling and the decisions that they're thinking about making--and really feeling like they have someone in their life who they can trust,” says Emmi. “So we certainly try to be that person when needed.” 

Read more articles by Christina Sturdivant.

Christina Sturdivant is a native Washingtonian who's always watching and writing about the latest cultural, community and innovative trends in the city. She's interested in people and companies that create equitable opportunities for longtime residents and transplants alike.
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