ECHO helps teen mom choose life and build a future.
“All you need is support,” says Janet. “When you have a person who believes in you, that’s all you really need.”
Janet was just 14 when she got pregnant. She was frightened and confused, a state compounded by a troubled home life. Her father was absent frequently and fought often with her mother. Her mother was routinely critical of her and responded poorly to the news of her pregnancy. In the midst of this, Janet’s school performance suffered and her self-confidence was shattered.
Fortunately, she enrolled herself in the School Age Mothers Program through the South Bend schools. There she received vital information from the professionals on staff and friendship from other teen moms in her same situation. Most importantly, she was introduced to the Catholic Charities ECHO Program.
“We are here to be a resource and provide encouragement,” says Lauren Jankowski, Janet’s ECHO Case Manager. “The key to the program’s success, though, is the long-term relationship we have with these young moms. For many, we are the only source of stability in their lives.”
ECHO, which stands for Education Creates Hope and Opportunity, is designed to help pregnant teens stay in high school and complete their diploma, all while still raising their children. ECHO also helps young mothers continue their education beyond high school.
Like many other teen moms, Janet, now 23, faced the possibility of dropping out. And without a high-school diploma, she would have very poor job prospects. With the right support, however, she could get an education and land better-paying jobs so she could keep her young family afloat.
In financial terms, the Catholic Charities ECHO Program has been a great success. Moms like Janet have a 90+% graduation rate, which compares to only 40% for teen moms nationally. It is estimated that every mother on assistance costs the government a minimum of $640,000 in services over her lifetime. In the last 20 years, ECHO has helped thousands of young mothers avoid poverty in our diocese.
“But the program is about more than avoiding poverty,” says Lauren. “ECHO is about helping them be accountable and helping them realize their potential.”
Early on Janet was plagued with worry and self-doubt. How would she provide for her son? Who could she turn to? Who would love and support her? Her ECHO case manager was a godsend. She provided crisis intervention, and monitored Janet’s prenatal care and well-baby care. She ensured that Janet had all the supplies she needed for parenting and school. She helped her prepare for life after high school. She also worked closely with her family members to repair relationships. All the effort paid off when Janet graduated on time with her class.
To make ends meet, Janet worked a variety of minimum-wage jobs. She knew, though, that furthering her education was the only way to move up the income ladder. Her ECHO case manager helped her create a plan. The first step was to earn her Child Development Accreditation, a certificate that enabled her to get a full-time job as a teacher at Head Start.
“My ECHO case managers helped me with everything: applying for school, setting up daycare, finding a place to live, managing my finances,” says Janet. “They were always there for me.”
Janet credits Lauren and her other case managers with helping her organize and prioritize her life so she could continue her studies while raising her son. More importantly, Janet feels that advancing her education will help her stay out of poverty and provide the life she wants for herself and her family.
Her self-growth and maturity have helped her restore her relationship with her mother. “Now that I’m a mom, I understand some of things she was going through,” she says. She is also closer to her younger brother and sister. Today Daniel is enrolled at St. Adelbert’s Parish School and Janet is a parishioner at Our Lady of Hungary. She has also healed her relationship with Daniel’s father and today they co-parent.
In 2018, Janet experienced a very traumatic event with a loved one that has taken a great emotional toll. Once again Lauren acted as a stabilizing influence, helping her stay strong for her son, maintaining her home, connecting with support groups and regaining her pursue her dreams: going back to school, getting married one day, having more children, buying a home, and helping others.
“I want to go back to school to become a social worker,” she says. “I want to help people who are in the same circumstances as me. I’ve been given so much. Now I want to give back.”
When asked what she would say to other teen moms about her experience with the program, Janet encourages them to contact ECHO right away.
“They are like Google: they will help you find whatever you need,” she says. “But more important, they are always there for you. You will never be alone.”