Despite funding fears and woes, Nevada County’s Young Parents Program continues to help at-risk clientele | TheUnion.com

Despite funding fears and woes, Nevada County’s Young Parents Program continues to help at-risk clientele

Lorraine Jewett
Special to The Union

A year ago, Nevada County's Young Parents Program was as at-risk as the at-risk clientele it served.

The state pulled funding from the program that helps pregnant and parenting teenagers succeed despite obstacles created when "children have children." This year, funding for the program was cobbled together through the generosity of the community and local agencies, plus the tenacity of its case manager.

"The silver lining that came from the possibility of losing the program was the community coming together through The Union's coverage last year, word of mouth, and personal advocacy for the program to continue," said Young Parents Program case manager Jolene Hardin. "The program helps improve high school graduation rates of expectant and parenting youth. It helps reduce repeat pregnancies. It also helps improve the health of the expectant and parenting youth, which supports the health of the child." 

The program is open to Nevada County youth, both boys and girls, who are expecting a child or have a baby. Most are in high school, some have graduated, other are in middle school, and still others have dropped out and need Hardin's encouragement to return to classes.

The program lost funding last year after the California Department of Public Health restructured the way it disperses grant funds, and Nevada County was deemed ineligible to even apply for funds. The program was slated for extinction in June — until the community rallied around it.

This year's funding came from four primary sources: $11,000 from the Nevada County Public Health Department, $20,000 from First Five Nevada County, $34,000 from the Nevada Joint Union High School District, and $35,000 from the county's Department of Social Services' Cal-Learn Program, a long-time contributor.

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The program also received one-time grants from the Welz Family Children's Foundation ($2,500) and the Century 21-Cornerstone Real Estate Community Charity Award Program ($1,000).

"We are grateful to our community partners who stepped up to help preserve this program when the state unexpectedly cut the funding last year," said high school district Superintendent Dr. Louise Johnson. "The Young Parents Program is truly a community treasure."

Graduates of the program praise it as life-changing.

"The Young Parents Program helped me learn so many things about parenting that I would have never known when I became a young mother at age 16," said Amber Mitchell, who graduated from Silver Springs High School in 2012. "The program also provided the support I needed to push through and finish my high school education. I even graduated early, at the end of my junior year."

Since graduation, Mitchell has been taking online courses and will earn a degree in Elementary Education later this year. She plans to become a school teacher.

The Young Parent Program serves an average of 40 clients each year, and since its inception in the early 1980s, has helped many hundreds of teens.

As case manager, Hardin connects young parents to resources in the community such as medical and dental care, family planning, substance abuse prevention, mental health services, parenting education, employment opportunities, housing assistance and continuing education.

"I am able to provide transportation to enrolled parents and their children to and from appointments, and also for any essential needs," said Hardin. "Being a teenager is hard, being a parent is hard, and being a teen parent is extremely hard and brings with it a set of very unique challenges. The clients I serve typically come from low socio-economic backgrounds."

The Young Parents Program partners with the Early Head Start program on the Silver Springs High School campus to offer childcare to families and children up to age three, with priority enrollment to teen parents enrolled in the Young Parents Program.

​"I just want to make sure that Jolene is acknowledged for all of the hard work she did behind the scenes to pull this all together," said high school district nurse Kris Youngman. "The case manager position requires a credible, knowledgeable person who is capable of maintaining collaboration with so many community agencies. The school district also valued the program and position enough to continue to support the program financially with the help of the other community agencies."

"The Young Parents Program changes the lives of mothers, fathers and their children," said Johnson. "By sharing strategies and connecting students with services, Jolene Hardin guides young people through the challenges of parenthood while completing their education, starting college and becoming employed. Our beautiful community is filled with beautiful people who are successful, in part, due to this highly effective program." 

Hardin said she's eager to continue serving her young clients, and hopes long-term funding can be secured for next year and future years.

"It's rewarding to see these young families blossom and succeed," Hardin said. "So often, the responsibility of becoming young parents inspires them to reach their goals in a way nothing else could."

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.