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In June, Lindsay Kretschmer, 25, will graduate from Centennial College’s three-year creative advertising program. In the audience will be her seven-year-old daughter Emilee.
Getting by with two part-time jobs and student loans, Kretschmer has won awards and accolades for her volunteerism and leadership, including being honoured as a YWCA Young Woman of Distinction in 2002.
She left home at 13. When she found out she was pregnant at 17, she was worried.
For some young women, becoming a mother is a turning point in their lives, giving them direction and purpose. They draw on inner strength and community resources to cope with the challenges of teen parenting. Kretschmer says this is the case in her life.
She dropped her old friends and set her sights on getting “a good job and making good money.”
To do that, she had to finish high school at the City Adult Learning Centre, a special all-adult high school run by the Toronto District School Board, and found herself getting much better marks this time around.
The hardest part?
“All of it. When you get home after school, prepare dinner without a husband and then do homework and study for exams.”
But she was inspired by the many people who helped her dream big, including the unique Literature for Life program, which brings group discussions on books to young mothers. She not only attended the program when she was a new mother but has also worked for it in a variety of positions.
Jessie’s Centre, the non-profit resource centre for pregnant and parenting teens on Parliament Street founded by journalist June Callwood, is another agency digging in to help young mothers. It offers a nursery school, drop-in, counselling, parenting support and breastfeeding assistance.
Melissa McColl, now a parent-child counsellor at Jessie’s, was herself a teen mother at 19. She turned to Jessie’s when she was a young mom alone in the city.
She was encouraged by Jessie’s staff to go to college. She took a cooking and catering course before switching to early childhood education at Seneca. After picking up straight A’s, she attended York University, where she majored in psychology. Her survival pattern was simple: She put Malik (now 12) in day care at the school at 7:30 a.m. and spent the entire day on campus attending classes and getting work done. She picked up her son at 6:30 p.m. and headed home, where he was fed and played with until bedtime.
Getting that degree was the most wonderful achievement, she says.
Maritza Sanchez, acting executive director of Jessie’s, was 18 in 1982 when she became pregnant. She and the baby’s father married and Sanchez was able to achieve a post-secondary education as a social worker in Calgary, where she lived at the time.
Sanchez had begun to rebel shortly after her family came to Canada from Chile when she was 10 years old. She had a probation officer who impressed her and decided, “I wanted to do what she does.”
Although she dropped out of school to have the baby, her family encouraged her to follow her dreams. “I went back to school when my son was eight months old.”
The marriage ended after five years and she came to Toronto to continue her education at Ryerson University. At Jessie’s for more than a decade, Sanchez says she shares her story with some young mothers, when appropriate, to encourage them to continue with education, baby or not. “It gives them hope.”