Working on a future: Lifeline Family Center helps young moms
Now 19-year-old Katherina was 17 when she learned she was pregnant.
A high school senior who was living in Miami, she had a strained relationship with her parents that resulted in her moving in with the father of her unborn child. Her father eventually offered to help out, but Katherina felt hopeless.
“I kind of didn’t have a hope that I would ever do something,” she said.
From Ecuador, Katherina did not know how to balance school and a baby.
“When I got pregnant, I didn’t really know how I was going to make it,” she said. “I didn’t see how I was going to have a future.”
At a local clinic, Katherina expressed to staff her concerns about not knowing what to do, not being able to complete school and not having a plan. The staff told her about the Lifeline Family Center in Cape Coral.
“At that moment, I knew something needed to change,” she said. “I had to get my schooling done and have opportunities for me and my daughter.”
At six months pregnant, she applied and was accepted.
“It’s been a total change for me,” Katherina, who has been part of the program for two years now, said Thursday. “I was never really disciplined.”
The Lifeline Family Center is a residence and learning facility for pregnant teens and women between 16 and 22. The program includes pre-natal and parenting classes, GED preparation, career training and spiritual guidance.
“We are a non-traditional maternity home,” founder and president Kathy Miller said, adding that most programs allow women to stay until childbirth.
Lifeline allows participants to stay until her child’s second birthday.
“Our vision is to give them the education that they would need to be self supporting,” she said. “Avoid being a welfare statistic.”
Most of the participants are third-generation single parents.
“We want to lift them out of the poverty realm and break that cycle,” she said, adding that their motto is, “Changing the world two lives at a time.”
Founded in February 1996, Lifeline has had 127 women participate in its program. The facility can accommodate up to 12 women or teens and 24 babies, and it has a nursery, learning center with distance learning, a chapel and more.
Applicants to the program must pass a drug test, have no active felony charges and can be no more than six months along in their pregnancy. They can have a second child, but the child must be 2 years of age or younger.
Miller said a desire to change and have a better life is really key.
“The girls that come into Lifeline need to have a desire to do something different,” she said, adding that the center is not just a free shelter.
During the program, women take parenting and life skill classes, as well as “character” classes that deal with issues like honesty, integrity, anger and personal rights. The center also has a 12-step recovery program available.
“Most of them have some type of addiction issue,” Miller said, adding that the addiction can range from drugs or alcohol, to attachment disorder.
“There usually is an issue that is a life-controlling problem that enables them to make poor choices. We equip them with the tools to resist the addiction,” she said.
At the learning center, participants are expected to start working toward their GED if they did not graduate. They then must pick a career path and work toward it through distance learning online or by attending school.
“They have to choose a career that will make $10.75 at least,” Miller said, explaining that the benchmark will enable them to be self-supporting for their child. “The girls pick career tracks that will really keep them off welfare.”
In the past, participants have trained to be pharmaceutical technicians, patient care technicians and massage therapists. One went into the police academy and another woman was recently licensed as a practical nurse.
Katherina earned her accounting certificate from High Tech North in May, after receiving her GED last year. She currently has two part-time jobs – one as a finance assistant for Habitant for Humanity – but is job hunting.
“My plans right now are to find a full-time job,” Katherina said.
Once she has saved up enough money, she and her 19-month-old daughter, Mila, will move out of Lifeline on their own. Katherina added that she wants to return to school at some point, earn a bachelor’s degree and get her CPA.
“I’m not going to be on welfare. I’m not going to be part of those statistics,” she said.
About one month ago, 21-year-old Shannon arrived at Lifelife. Five months along in her pregnancy, she had been living with roommates in Colorado while working at a laundry mat. She wanted to keep her baby but lacked support.
“It wouldn’t have been a healthy environment,” Shannon said.
With ties to the Cape, she learned about Lifeline. The level of the center’s involvement, childbirth classes and spiritual guidance were key for her.
“This program is everything. It’s just like a relief,” Shannon said, explaining that she can focus on improving her situation, rather than paying bills.
“I have to prepare myself, but I’m not worried,” she said. “It opens up doorways. I probably wouldn’t be getting an education in Colorado.”
Already in possession of a high school diploma, Shannon plans to attend technical school once her baby is born. She is looking at the medical field.
“I definitely want something better for myself and my baby,” she said. “I want my baby to be more stable, and healthy.”
Shannon explained that stability has not been a big part of her life.
“I’ve lived in eight different states in my life – 20 something different homes and apartments,” she said. “My parents just moved around a lot.”
She called Lifeline a good place to find stability for her new family.
“Once I grow stable and strong, my baby will too,” Shannon said.
Miller explained that the program’s participants can earn and save Lifeline dollars, which are used to simulate a budget including rent and utilities.
“If they are diligent in working the program, they can purchase one of the donated cars we have,” she said. “They can earn their starter car.”
About three dozen women have earned a vehicle over the years.
To “graduate” from the program, participants need to raise $3,000 in savings, have a full-time job in their career field and have a five-year plan.
“We don’t want to set them up to fail,” Miller said.
About one in four participants “go the whole gamut” and graduate. About half of the women stay long enough to get their GED and decide on a career path, while the rest only get through the life skills and parenting classes.
“If they’re very young and they bolt – if they go and fall flat on their face, we will give them a second chance if their peers believe them,” she said.
To graduate, they also must select a church.
“That’s their anchor before they leave, their accountability,” Miller said, adding that participants can finish the program without “graduating.”
“We’re a non-denominational Christian program,” she said. “We want the ladies to chose a home church before they leave the program.”
Lifeline Family Center is a non-profit organization and relies on donations.
“We do not take any government funding, only Medicaid for childbirth,” Miller said, adding that nursery and tutoring volunteers are always sought.
“We’re always looking,” she said.
Lifeline Family Center is at 907 S.E. Fifth Ave. For more information, call (239) 242-7238 or visit the Web site at: www.lifelinefamilycenter.org .