Circle of Life benefits young moms, their babies

Friday, November 28, 2014

Teresa Pottorff always begins by asking teen mothers what went well since she visited them last. As the family service worker for Carroll County Circle of Life, Pottorff routinely visits single teen mothers at home to assess how they are adjusting to motherhood.

"I just came from a mom's house and she couldn't think of anything that went well this week but our group meeting," Pottorff said during a recent interview.

"It made me feel good that I had a part in that, that meeting with us was the highlight of her week," Pottorff said.

Founded four years ago, Carroll County Circle of Life is a program that assists single mothers up to age 24 during pregnancy and the three years after it. The program currently has 18 teen moms enrolled and offers various types of assistance, from the monthly group meetings Pottorff mentioned to life skills like budgeting, relationship counseling and financial help.

Pottorff said the goal is to create a better life for both the mother and the child. The most important way to approach this goal, she explained, is through education for both.

"Mom works on the child's brain development and teaches the child vocabulary -- colors, shapes, sizes, numbers -- and makes a better life for herself through education and the workforce," Pottorff said. "Then, she's already providing a different life than what she grew up with. The child is already growing up in a different situation."

Though the program directly helps teen moms throughout the year, Pottorff said that it sometimes needs help from the community. Christmas is one of those times.

This year, the program is offering Adopt-a-Family, a chance to adopt a mother or a baby -- or both -- to provide Christmas gifts for families that would have little otherwise.

Deena Tougaw, the program's coordinator, noted that many people can't afford to budget for Christmas.

"It's really hard for them to find extra money when they're trying to find money for gas and other necessities," Tougaw said. "Without this program, a lot of kids would go without or have minimal Christmases. Now, they will grow up having just as good Christmases as any other kid in the county."

Tougaw explained how the program will work. Local businesses or individuals can choose a mother, child or family to adopt and may spend up to $100 per person. Each mother has provided a wish list of both needs and wants along with a little information about herself. If you adopt a family, Tougaw insisted, it is important to stay within the budget.

"We're giving them their Christmas gifts at our monthly meeting Dec. 16, and we want each mother and child to have the same amount of items," she said.

Tougaw and Pottorff are providing labels with each information packet so that each mother and child receive the correct gifts. Gifts should be turned in by Dec. 13.

Pottorff said that the community has received the program well, noting that she has only one mother and two babies left to adopt out. The mothers, she added, are comforted by the gifts.

"They're relieved. They're joyful that somebody would be willing to help them with something like that," she said.

If you'd like to donate to Carroll County Circle of Life in another way, Tougaw said that the program is always open to donations. She listed several items the program needs, including toys, breast pads, cleaning supplies, bedding, home supplies and warm winter clothes.

"We'll find a home for it," she said. "You hand it over and it usually finds a home pretty quick."

Financial donations, she added, are also helpful. This kind of donation can "go in any direction," allowing the program to supplement its grant money.

Community support helps the program get grant money, too. Tougaw explained that she keeps a record of all donations to show that the community needs and supports the program.

"Our funders look to see how much community support we have," she said. "Programs embraced by their community get re-funded. If the community doesn't get involved, that shows the community doesn't want the program there."

Meeting with these mothers every week or every other week, Pottorff said she can see the need for and the success of the program each day. She recalled meeting with a young mother who was experiencing pain breast-feeding and driving the girl to Harrison to discuss proper breast-feeding with a medical professional.

"Even through all that pain, she's still breast-feeding and she's still determined to do what's best for her baby. To see this young mom care more about her baby than herself is huge at that age," she said.

Now that the program is in its fourth year, Pottorff and Tougaw are seeing mothers graduate from the program. Tougaw said she still keeps in touch with these young women.

"They're still on an outreach," she said. "They still come to group. They're too busy for the visits and they don't need them, but they're part of the family still."

Pottorff, too, called the program a family.

"We're almost like a friendship they rely on. That's their source of stability," she said.

For more information about Adopt-a-Family or other ways to donate to Carroll County Circle of Life, contact Pottorff at 870-754-3526.

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