Genesis, 20, and Michele, 22, are sisters who grew up in Howard Area Community Center programs. Their lives were filled with with homework help, field trips, summer camp, and more from birth through teenage years. Even their mother worked in the kitchen at the Family Center and volunteered throughout HACC. However, their lives changed dramatically after both Genesis and Michele gave birth to their own children before finishing high school at 16 and 17 years old, respectively.
But HACC was there as a safety net. They enrolled their infant children, Sherlyn (now three years old) and Laylah (now four years old), in the affordable Family Center childcare program in 2013 where they received the support needed to care for their children through the challenges of adolescent parenthood.
You both grew up in HACC programs. How did it impact you as adults?
Genesis: I feel like summer camp and all that was more what are the new things that we learned. We would tie dye, one time I learned how to make paper. We made shirts and movies.
Michele: Stuff we did back then we teach them now. We don’t like them to be on YouTube a lot and on smart phones. I’m like, let’s go outside!
How did your lives change when you became pregnant as teenagers?
Michele: I felt that I wasn’t ready. I was 17 years old and I still had a whole life ahead of me. I said, “What am I gonna do with a baby?”. In the beginning my mom wasn’t supportive. I had to move in with my boyfriend. He wasn’t any help. I left him in four months. Once my daughter was born, that changed my mom’s attitude and she loved it. I moved back with my mom. I was like I need to get a job and I need to start growing up. My first job was at Jewel Osco in the bakery. I was working there for a couple of months, and minimum wage and it was not enough to support my family. I did it by myself, but also with the support of my family. That’s when we all stated getting close to one another.
Genesis: When I got pregnant and Michele had her daughter it was more like we have something we can relate over.
How did your lives change when you enrolled your children in the HACC Family Center?
Genesis: I took parenting class with the Home Visitors at HACC and I think my daughter was like a year old and that helped me a lot. It was my first child!
Michele: They helped us with doctor’s appointments for my daughter. HACC made it easy. They knew we were young. The Home Visitors told us what we needed to improve on. They always tell us “Oh you guys are doing a good job!”
Genesis: I feel like HACC’s childcare helped me a lot because when I had my daughter I put her in there when she was six months old and I started going back to high school. I knew that she would have the opportunity to learn more. Thanks to the childcare my daughter was potty trained at a year and a half and was able to eat solid food at one years old. They helped us achieve a lot of goals before it’s normal for kids to do that.
What makes the Family Center special?
Michele: The first daycare that my daughter went to, it was terrible. They just sat there and you’d pick them up.
Genesis: Even [the Family Center director] Stephania knows my child. I think that means a lot. A lot of people are like so which one’s your child? I feel like everyone takes time out of their day to be more involved with the family and the child.
Michele: And that makes us comfortable. It makes us feel good about leaving our child there.
Genesis: I think HACC doesn’t care about your age, they just care more about what it is that you need.
Michele: They ask like what do you need help in and no one is ever rude. Never in my whole life have I found somebody rude or judgmental or mean at HACC. It’s always a yes, we can help you with that.
What would you say to other young people who became parents as teenagers?
Michele: Don’t be scared to come and ask for help. HACC is always going to help you. You might be like what are they doing in there, but you don’t need to be afraid.
Today, Michele works at a restaurant and Genesis is a private gardener. They have not only made use of the Family Center at HACC, but have taken GED classes and regularly use the food pantry. For more information on teen pregnancy, check out what Miriam Zoila Pérez has to say as a journalist and reproductive justice advocate.
Created and photographed (current photos) by Rachel Hoffman