WEST OAK LANE — It might be called a support system or perhaps a lifeline for girls and young women in need. But however it is defined, YoungLives West Oak Lane is making inroads in the community by assisting teenage mothers who find themselves raising children, often in difficult circumstances.
The group was launched last year as part of YoungLives Delaware Valley, a nonprofit Christian organization that, since 2004, has provided support to young mothers in three other communities in Philadelphia (Olney, North Broad Street and Kensington) and an additional six outside the city (Norristown, West Chester, Chester, Coatesville, Phoenixville and Sharon Hill).
The organization is an offshoot of Young Life, which has offered support and mentorship to teenagers since 1941.
Pam Canty oversees the program in West Oak Lane. She has a team of approximately 10 working with her and the teens. Canty, who has a degree in social work and Bible from Cairn University in Bucks County, leads the women’s ministry at the Great Commission Church on Eastburn Avenue in Germantown, where YoungLives meets on the third Thursday of each month.
Canty said the YoungLives effort fills a need in the community.
"I think what kind of attracted me was the impact that this could have,” she said. “That there was nothing like it in West Oak Lane already that we could find, and there were so many people within our church that had that background. They were teen moms at one time, and they were looking for something.”
Canty said the greatest asset the group provides young mothers is emotional support.
“We’re realizing that that’s what makes a difference between a lot of these young ladies going back and having repeat pregnancies, dropping out of school,” she said. “That’s the main thing that we provide.”
YoungLives has worked with approximately 20 young women in its first year of existence. The young mothers have access to a range of services, including meals, childcare, a diaper service and, if necessary, transportation, all free of charge.”
The organization also assists the young mothers with such tasks as finding housing, finding employment or enrolling their children in school when the time comes.
Apart from helping the women meet day-to-day needs, the organization offers support and mentorship as a way of supporting the young mothers.
Canty, who was never a teenage mother but who today has three children of her own, saidit’s important for teenagers dealing with the challenges of motherhood to understand they’re not alone.
“We actively support mentor relationships,” she said. “Walking alongside of them on this journey, that’s the main thing — walking alongside of them and supporting them.”
Canty said it’s important for teen mothers, some of whom may not be far beyond childhood themselves, to understand that taking on motherhood does not mean that other aspects of their lives can be neglected.
“That’s one of the challenges,” she said. “We still have that challenge.”
As YoungLives West Oak Lane prepares to celebrate its first anniversary in May, Canty said she is hopeful the organization can connect with more teen mothers in the community who are in need of support.
“It’s been hard to find the teen moms,” she said. “You walk around, you see them in Philadelphia, you know they’re in the Mt. Airy, West Oak Lane area. … We have been knocking on doors.
“We’re finding out local high schools don’t have as many teen moms because it’s too difficult," she said. "A lot of them are going to untraditional high schools. They’re doing the alternative-type thing, where you can get college credits and do things on their own schedule or go to night school.
“It’s too difficult to do things like your peers. That has been a challenge for a lot of our young moms. It’s been one of our obstacles.”
For more information on YoungLives Delaware Valley, visit younglivesdelawarevalley.younglife.org.