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Family Center celebrates 10 years of helping young parents

November 10, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

karenh@herald-mail.com

Heather Wilt says, as a pregnant 15-year-old, she thought she could stretch her $300 in savings for a few months. She also thought there was no way she could finish her diploma.

She was wrong on both counts.

Wilt, 18, is a graduate and a wife - she and her baby's father married in September. They have taken classes at the Washington County Family Center to finish their high school educations as they rear 20-month-old Lilian together.

"I didn't have a real good childhood, neither did he - he had a horrible childhood - and we want to be able to provide her with things we wasn't able to have," Wilt said as she and her 17-year-old high school sweetheart ate lunch with their daughter at the Family Center on West Washington Street.

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The Wilt family is one of about 150 families the Family Center serves each year, Director Karen Christof said during a celebration Wednesday marking the program's 10th anniversary. When it first opened, the center, which receives funding through grants and support from public agencies such as Washington County Public Schools, served about 50 families a year, Christof said.

According to Christof, the Family Center provides adult-education and high-school classes, parenting training, on-site childcare and other services to parents of children ages 4 and younger.

"Most of the people who come to the center either have dropped out of school or are struggling to stay in school," Christof said.

Washington County Public Schools counselor Budd Moore said the Family Center has helped the system meet the needs of girls who might otherwise quit school.

"They have these new responsibilities of having a child, being pregnant, or whatever, about to give birth, but yet, the focus is still on them finishing their education," Moore said Wednesday by phone.

According to the Maryland Department of Public Health and Mental Hygiene, the county's teenage birth rate was the fourth-highest in the state in 2003. That year, 185 Washington County females ages 15 to 19 gave birth.

According to a preliminary report, 206 babies were born to mothers ages 15 to 19 in 2004.

As a counselor at Evening High School and South Hagerstown High School, Moore said he has no trouble convincing students of the Family Center's benefits.

"I wish it was 10 times as large, because the need is here," Moore said.

Once she started taking classes at the center, Sirdrease Morgan, a Williamsport High School student, said she was confident and determined she would finish. Without the program's support, she said she does not know where she would be.

"I didn't know nothing about being no mother until I came here and I became a parent," Morgan said.

Morgan, 18, ate lunch in a kitchen area of the Family Center with a 17-year-old girl and the girl's toddler son.

The boy smiled and bobbed his head as he devoured lunch and spilled red juice down a starch white T-shirt.

Morgan and her friend said they no longer are intimidated by being parents. Both are pregnant again.

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