CRENSHAW : Mentor Program for Teen Parents Offered

Though its future funding is cloudy and political winds may be blowing against it, the Teen Parenting and Child Care Center celebrated the start of its new mentor program with a day of speakers testifying to the power of self-determination.

Women from various professions, several of whom are mentors, delivered words of encouragement and tales of their struggles with parenthood and self-esteem to 30 teen-age mothers, all program participants.

"The one thing I learned above all is that you can turn around your life with education. It took me five years, but I did it," said Laura Esquivel, an aide to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg. "I knew I was smart . . . but I had to make the decision to get something I knew I needed--education--to get me where I wanted to go."

The mentors program is the latest component of the teen parenting center at 3721 Washington Blvd., which is at an occupational training site of the Los Angeles Unified School District and funded largely by the district.

Founded eight years ago by Ruth Beaglehole, a former parenting teacher at Business Industry School, the center provides free child care, meals, counseling and other support services to teen-age mothers. But they must attend school and complete their high school credits. Participants work closely together and attend classes at the Alternative Work Education Center on campus.

Beaglehole is expecting a fight to keep the teen center going.

The school district's annual $130,000 funding for the center runs out in June. Proposed welfare cuts and legislation requiring that teen-agers stay in school in order to receive aid may further undermine the tenuous state of low-income, troubled and undereducated teens, said Beaglehole.

"The message from politicians is that teen-agers have to pay for child care themselves, and they can't. The district doesn't have nearly enough free child care," she said. "There's a perception that teen-age mothers are lazy, that they don't want to learn. That's simply not true."

Mentors are interviewed extensively and matched to each teen-age participant's temperament and interests, said program coordinator Karen Pomer.

"It's been an education for me," said actress Maggie Palomo of her seven months as a mentor. "These girls get a lot of negative messages all the time, all over. I try to be as supportive as I can when I learn they went home and got hurt or beat up, emotionally and otherwise. I do it (mentor) to help out and be a role model as much as I can, even though I have to admit my own life isn't going so well."

For Sandra Coronado, 20, the mentor program has brought an unexpected dimension to the teen center, which has become her second home.

"At first, I didn't open up. I don't like talking to people I don't know that well," said Coronado, a mother of two who has had a mentor for a year. "But I found out we had a lot in common--problems with kids and husbands. It helps me a lot now to talk to her."

Information: (310) 855-5377.

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