When Laticia Goodman learned she was pregnant at 21 years old with her first child, her mind fired off a series of questions: Could she continue her education? What about her career plans? Was she really ready to be a parent?
Fortunately, Goodman didn’t have to answer those questions alone. Backed by her partner, family and friends – and with support from a BWH program for young parents like her – the Mission Hill mother celebrated the birth of her son Jonah, now 5, embarked on a career in the health care industry and plans to pursue an undergraduate degree.
Now, Goodman is part of a new cohort of young parents who will serve as peer mentors in a BWH program for other young parents confronting similar questions, challenges and triumphs. The initiative was announced during the seventh annual STEPS Young Parent Summit, a day-long event hosted by BWH’s Center for Community Health and Health Equity (CCHHE) on June 29.
“One of the things we know about young parents is that they’re often marginalized and isolated in their communities, so this mentorship program is a great way to break down those barriers,” said Maisha Douyon Cover, director of Health Equity Programs at CCHHE. “It’s someone who knows what you’re going through and all the complexities of not really being an adult, but not really being a kid, and now parenting.”
Both the summit and mentorship program are part of the CCHHE’s Stronger Generations, which supports a lifetime of good health through a focus on social, medical and economic needs before, during and after pregnancy.
The new group of mentors, whose roster is expected to grow in the coming months, are all alumni of the CCHHE’s Young Parent Ambassador Program. In addition to offering social support and services, the year-long program provides the ambassadors with leadership training and workforce development skills. Each mentor will be partnered with a parent or expectant parent under the age of 25.
Goodman, now 27, said that while she was fortunate to have such a supportive network of family and friends – including many who were also young parents – not everyone has the same experience. She added that interacting with other young parents through STEPS and the ambassador program was an invaluable opportunity – and one that has inspired her to give back as a mentor.
“I want to help people, especially someone who may not have that person to talk to – that big sister, aunt or friend who is going through or has gone through the same thing as you,” Goodman said.
When asked what advice she would give other young parents, Goodman offered a message of empowerment: “Life is not over. Your goals are not gone. It’s just a different pathway.”
‘I Have a Power in Me’
Each year, STEPS brings young families and community agencies together to provide a safe forum for young parents to expand their knowledge and access resources to help them succeed.
Hosted at Simmons College, this year’s summit opened with a panel discussion with several young parents, followed by workshop sessions covering a wide variety of topics. Included among them were candid discussions about early-childhood literacy, immigrant rights, sexuality, pursuing higher education, empowerment and, for the first time, a workshop for young parent allies on how to best support the young parent in their life.
In addition, a resource fair provided the young parent attendees with access to community-based agencies and organizations supporting pregnant and parenting young adults across the greater Boston area.
Among the event’s most moving moments are its annual Proud2Parent Young Parent Awards ceremony, which bestows five honors: the Courage Award, the Self-Sufficiency Award, the Resiliency Award, the Education Award and the Co-Parenting Award.
Wiping away tears as she accepted the Courage Award, Noime Alves shared how challenging it was to arrive in the United States six years ago when she was 18 years old, pregnant, unable to speak English and immigrating before her husband. Now a student at Endicott College, she expressed her gratitude for the programs and individuals who have supported her path to success.
“It was very difficult. When you don’t speak the language, you don’t even say your name and you can’t understand people,” Alves told the audience. “But now I will always say, ‘I’m the power.’ I have a power in me.”