The Most Important Job in the World
Ten-month-old Karter is so, so close to walking. In fact, his proud mom believes he can … he just chooses not to.
“I’m convinced he just likes it better being carried around,” says 20-year-old Melia with a smile. “He is a very smart baby!”
Melia and Karter are part of our Covenant House family, cared for by volunteers and by a loving Covenant House staff who have invited young women and their babies in the program into their own families, and into their hearts.
“These are my babies, my second family, all of them,” says program coordinator Michelle Thomas-Dezonie. “It is not easy being a young mom. They face many challenges. But each one of our moms love their babies very much, and are working very hard to build a better life for themselves and their children. We are here to listen, to speak to them with the respect and love they need and deserve. We spend our holidays with these young families, we share their birthdays, their new jobs, all their accomplishments. And all their struggles. We truly are a family.
“These are grown women with very big responsibilities,” says Michelle. “It’s not our job to tell them what to do. We are here to listen, to really hear them. We provide support and share our experience. Often when I’m speaking to one of my moms, I’ll say, ‘I would do it this way.’ And then it is up to them to try their own path. We are here if they thrive, and we are here for them if they stumble.”
Like all of the young people who will be living at Covenant House this holiday season, each of the moms have come to Covenant House for different reasons. Some are asked to leave when they tell their parents they are pregnant. Others come from families suffering severe poverty which makes feeding and caring for a new baby impossible.
In FY19, Covenant House served 400 families through our continuum of residential services in the U.S. Our comprehensive Continuum of Care for families is designed to first safely house and then to help parenting and pregnant youth develop the skills needed to care for themselves and their children, including addressing the developmental needs of infants and toddlers. Geared to the particular needs of each family, our programs provide tiered levels of housing, beginning with emergency low-barrier shelter (3-6 months), transitional living (up to two years), and permanent supportive housing, offering long-term independent living with supportive services, and referrals to independent apartment rentals. We’ve learned that the longer a young family takes advantage of our services, the greater the likelihood that they will transition to stable housing.
In Melia’s case, she was living with her grandma until she moved into a senior facility. “I needed to find an apartment for me and Karter, and I found Covenant House,” she says. “The staff and volunteers here are so supportive. I landed a job in Brooklyn and the staff here care for Karter when I’m working. And I hope to move into the long-term program here at Covenant House, Rights of Passage. I want to go to school to be a forensic scientist, so when we get a little more stable I can apply to college. It is a great feeling knowing I have so much support as I pursue my dreams.”
As Meila shares her story, little Karter reaches out to grab Michelle’s hand. Michelle not only brings her professional expertise, she has also raised four children of her own. “I think one of the toughest challenges is sharing that being a mom does not mean being a best friend,” says Michelle. “But I tell the girls, why take a demotion? You don’t need to be a best friend. You are a mom, the greatest, most important job in the world.”