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Craft show helps program for teen parents

MORE: Read more Spotsylvania County news

Pregnant at 15, Michelle Etcho could easily have become a troubling statistic.

Instead, Etcho became a success story—graduating from Riverbend High School in Spotsylvania County and going on to the University of Mary Washington. She now has a college degree, a job she loves and a son who’s doing well in second grade.

Tackling high school, college and a career while raising a child hasn’t been easy. But Etcho had two powerful allies: a supportive family and Joan Gillis, who runs the Program for Teen Parents through the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board.

Etcho received support, both financial and moral, from the baby’s father and grandparents. Everyone was determined to see the young parents graduate from high school.

Gillis bolstered that support by providing Lamaze classes, parenting courses, infant massage lessons and money for daycare.

“The Program for Teen Parents is just so important,” Etcho said. “Joan always said that babies are wonderful and beautiful, but you’re too young to have them. That helped me remember to prioritize, to put my child first.”

Gillis’ program has helped teen parents for more than 20 years. In 2004, the program launched its Childcare Assistance Fund. Since then, that pot of money has lost several sources of funding. But one has remained constant in recent years—an annual craft fair.

This year, the program is helping 59 teen parents in Spotsylvania. The program used to help teens throughout the area—after state funding stopped in 2007, Spotsylvania supervisors voted to keep the program running in that county.

This year, three teens are receiving child care assistance through the fund, but Gillis hopes the fund can help more teen parents after the craft fair on Saturday.

Karey Spears, a former teen mom, runs the fair, and the current teen parents help with the logistics of a large fundraiser.

Proceeds from the craft show go to the child care fund. To get help with day care, teen parents must attend school, get good grades, show up for Lamaze classes and help with the fundraiser.

In return, they get some money—and Gillis often works with child care providers to negotiate discounts.

Day care for an infant runs about $200 a week in the Fredericksburg area, a price out of reach for many high-schoolers who would have to drop out.

“If you don’t have a high school diploma, you’re not going to get a job that pays you more than minimum wage,” Etcho said. “But kids cost money, and if you’re going to raise a child you have to work and you need child care. You get stuck in a cycle.”

According to a 2010 study, only about half of teens who give birth graduate from high school by the age of 22, while about 90 percent of other teens do.

Giving teen parents help with child care costs—and emotional support during a tumultuous time—can help them overcome those odds, Etcho said.

“This program helps you break the cycle by emphasizing education,” Etcho said.

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973



WHAT: Craft fair to benefit Program for Teen Parents WHEN: Nov. 9, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Riverbend High School

DETAILS: Proceeds benefit the Childcare Assistance Fund, which supplements day care costs for teen parents so they can stay in school.