When Chelsey Hess found out she was pregnant at age 15, she had a fantastic support system that included her boyfriend, Anthony Pissos; their parents and friends; as well as a program at Wheeling Park High School to help keep her on track to graduate.
Hess acknowledges not all teen moms are that fortunate, which is why the 18-year-old student at West Liberty University and mom of 22-month-old Maveric has signed on to be a volunteer mentor with a new group called Young Lives, a ministry of Ohio Valley Young Life.
"I've heard of Young Life, but I've never been to it," said the 2013 Park graduate, speaking of the youth ministry that has served students in local high schools for 40 years. "I really hope that Young Lives does help out these girls. I hope they get something from this, and I hope they keep on coming, because they need all the support they can get," Hess said.
Teen moms and their children gather in this photo provided by the national office of Young Lives, a ministry of Young Life. A Young Lives Ohio Valley group is kicking off Saturday with a free dinner and trip to Boo at the Zoo.
She is one of eight volunteer mentors coordinated by part-time Young Lives staff member Leah Mick of Wheeling.
The first meeting will be at Boo at the Zoo on Saturday that includes dinner beforehand at Covenant Community Church and door prizes. Typically, meetings will take place the second and fourth Thursdays of each month at a mentor's home, with a home-cooked dinner and child care provided by volunteers while the moms get to know one another and learn about God's love. They also will meet one Saturday a month for a special event.
"Young Lives gives teen girls a chance to be teens and have fun, but also have support from other teen moms and mentors in an environment where they will receive unconditional love," said Mick.
"Our mentors will not just help equip them to be good moms but will walk through this challenging time with them as a trusted friend and help guide them towards healthy choices," said Kirk Wilson, Ohio Valley Young Life area director.
Mentors range in age from 18 to 60 and have Christian backgrounds, Mick said. Girls from any faith, or no faith, are welcome to all meetings and events.
Mick said the girls can bring their babies to all meetings, and everything is free, including any baby supplies the moms may need. Young Lives is seeking donations of diapers, baby wipes, baby soap and shampoo, and new or gently used clothing to give the moms. Transportation is provided to all meetings and events, Mick said, by the mentors, all of whom have undergone both criminal background checks and driver's screenings.
Mick is aware of other local resources serving teen moms, such as the Gabriel Project of West Virginia - in fact, her sister, Kate Marshall of Wheeling, has been a Gabriel Project volunteer for many years - and she said her goal is not to duplicate services but to meet the moms where they are, love them and point them toward local resources.
Mick got connected to Young Lives because she had been talking about wanting to start such a group ever since she and her husband Adam, a co-pastor at Covenant Community Church, moved to Wheeling two years ago. Young Life leadership recognized the need and knew of her interest. Mick said her own mother was a teen mom who had a great deal of support from her father's mother. Like Hess, Mick wants to be that support for others.
"We think these girls are really brave for choosing to keep their babies and support them. That's a really tough job," Mick said.
Hess said because she's "been there, done that," she can help others with coping strategies and empower them to stand up for themselves and their children in a society where many people treat them disrespectfully.
"I can tell them it's not the end of the world. You can get through this."
For information, call Mick, 304-780-3476, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find them on Facebook, Ohio Valley Young Lives.