Babies First Staff Foresees More Lives Being Restored
When the Babies First program in Mobile started experiencing growing pains, UMCH staff decided to take the same advice they give the young mothers in their care: Look for ways to turn challenges into opportunities.
The building was aging and repairs were becoming cost-prohibitive at the same time the demand for services was at an all-time high. That’s why UMCH leadership made building a new home for the program a priority for 2019. The ministry broke ground on the new 9,600 square foot home in August of that year with the facility having been completed a year later in 2020.
The Babies First home in Mobile serves mothers ages 14-21 who are pregnant or have a young child. The staff mentors the girls, teaches them how to mother their babies and helps them get an education and job skills so they can break the cycle of poverty and move on to independent lives, caring for themselves and their baby. The new facility, one of only two in Alabama that provides residential group care for pregnant teens and young mothers, will allow the ministry to serve twice as many girls and their children.
“We’re evolving to help our mothers evolve,” said Janet Rawls, director of residential programs for UMCH. “I think it’s important for us to model the kind of atmosphere we want them to aim for and to let them see that we value them and that they should value themselves. We want them to live in a comfortable, safe, warm, homey environment because that’s what we want them to aspire for themselves and their children.”
“Many of our girls don’t know what it means to live in a safe, loving environment,” Rawls said. “We have to teach them that.”
Feelings of self-worth and value don’t come easily for the young women, many of whom are in foster care because of abuse and neglect. “Many of our girls don’t know what it means to live in a safe, loving environment,” Rawls said. “We have to teach them that.”
In order to give the mothers and group home staff a voice during the process, UMCH leadership asked for their input in deciding how the home should function. The girls wanted a play area for their children, and the new home will feature a beautiful fenced-in backyard and playground. The staff requested – and got – a covered outdoor area, which will allow everyone to enjoy meals and spend more time outside.
“We’re always looking at ways to teach our young moms to interact with their babies that don’t involve television or technology,” Rawls said. “We’re setting up all the common areas in ways that will encourage reading to their babies and interactive play. We’ve put a lot of thought and a lot of love into the design of this home.”
In addition to mentoring the girls, the Babies First staff transports them or their babies to doctor’s appointments and daycare, as well as to school or part-time jobs. Counseling and other services are also provided to help the mothers achieve self-reliance, emotional stability, and spiritual growth. Long-term goals include helping the moms become self-sufficient, strengthening the bonds between mothers and children, and preventing repeat pregnancies while single.
“This program makes a tremendous impact on two generations, and this new home will allow us to better minister to the needs of the girls and their children,” Rawls said. “It will help us provide the nurturing and loving atmosphere they need to thrive.”