Young moms grow together

Through the drop-in center, Kidz Club after school program, life skills classes and community dinners, Take the Next Step (TTNS, 202 S. Sams St.) in Monroe incorporates a multi-layered approach when it comes to addressing poverty in the community.

When the need for a supportive environment for teen and young moms was recognized, TTNS answered with the Growing Together program, a holistic program that seeks to support and guide teen and young moms through the journey of motherhood.-á

In its fifth year of service, the Growing Together program offers access to counseling services, along with monthly dinners at Cascade Community Church in Monroe (14377 167th Ave. S.E.). In addition to providing a healthy meal, the dinner creates a sense of solidarity among young moms as they navigate the challenges of life with a baby. They are able to laugh at the craziness that motherhood can bring and find comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone.

When program facilitator Debbie Taylor first began Growing Together, she had three young moms who were still in high school. Currently, Growing Together serves a community of more than 50 young mothers who vary in age from 16 to 25.

"It was a very different situation then because they were in high school,GÇ¥ Taylor said. "A lot of these girls are out of high school.GÇ¥

Taylor and her husband, who serve as pastors at the Monroe Covenant Church, have been serving the Monroe community for approximately seven years. The church inaugurated the Take the Next Step ministry in 2005 as a way to broaden its level of community outreach.-á

The church is located next door to Take the Next Step.-á

Growing Together uses volunteers to provide child care, interact with the moms and serve the meals. As an added enhancement, Walmart recently came forward to offer assistance through its Volunteerism Always Pays (VAP) program. Through VAP, Walmart encourages its employees to engage in community service, for which they commit to making a charitable contribution to the employees' nonprofit of choice.-á

"We encourage our associates to volunteer,GÇ¥ said Walmart employee Ben Allen. "And Walmart pays their volunteer hours.GÇ¥-á

Walmart's work at TTNS is known as an event VAP, which means that once the Walmart associates achieve a certain number of volunteer hours, the company will translate those hours into a financial contribution to TTNS. Event VAPs are typically accomplished by a group of associates and can include a series of one-day events. Next month, Walmart is planning on serving baked chicken with homemade potato salad, with egg salad sandwiches for the kids.-á

Last week's Mother's Day-themed dinner, which took place on May 20, included a taco dinner served by Walmart, a gift basket raffle for the young moms, hand massages, a conversation about self-care and a presentation by local therapist Annie Redd.-á

A specialist in family services, Redd worked as a special education teacher for 14 years before deciding to work full-time as a therapist. She gave the Growing Together moms a presentation about healthy attachment and discussed the importance of eye contact.

"Every time you look at your baby, you are literally filling them with life,GÇ¥ Redd said. "You're filling them with part of who you are.GÇ¥

The Growing Together monthly dinner meetings are fluid and interactive and based on the needs of the young moms. Moms are given the opportunity to relax with their babies, interact with other adults and experience the fellowship of the group.

"They've really built a nice community,GÇ¥ Taylor said. -á

TTNS is always looking for volunteers to help during the Growing Together dinners. Volunteers are needed to provide child care, help with cleanup, share life stories, offer expertise and serve as mentors. TTNS will fundraise so that the moms who wish to do so can attend summer camp.-á

To support the Growing Together program, visit -á -á -á


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