Girls get helping hand

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Katie Becker, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, plans to work in the juvenile-justice system, study law and help troubled youngsters — giving back for help she received 10 years ago when she was 15 and pregnant.

Becker is one of more than 35,000 girls and young women who, faced with the tough job of bearing and rearing babies on their own, have found help over the past 100 years at Florence Crittenton Services.

Now, on the eve of its centennial, the Charlotte-based charity is expanding its focus and gearing up to launch a drive in January to raise $2 million.

Formed in 1903, Crittenton was modeled on a charity started 20 years earlier in New York City by a grieving father who went on to help groups in other cities shelter pregnant women who were homeless and single.

With 30 employees and an annual budget of $1.7 million, Crittenton served more than 400 mothers and babies in the Carolinas in the year ended June 30.

Services for Crittenton girls, typically 15 to 16 years old, range from residential maternity and foster care to adoption support and home visits to teach parenting and life skills.

 “The young people who need the services now have many difficult issues in addition to the pregnancy they’re dealing with,” says Marilyn Thompson, Florence Crittenton’s CEO.

The heart of Crittenton’s operation is a 36-bed maternity unit that occupies the second floor of its two-story building on the campus of Carolinas Medical Center.

The unit served more than 350 young mothers and babies in the last fiscal year, including five mothers who chose adoption programs for their babies and stayed at Crittenton for counseling and vocational training after giving birth.

Crittenton social workers also visit the homes of girls at risk of becoming pregnant or delivering premature babies to help them learn skills they will need as mothers and adults.

And in October, the charity launched two new residential programs – one to teach parenting skills to young mothers in the foster-care system, and the other to equip girls and young women with life skills.

“I think it’s a life-changing experience for many of the girls to come there, not from the standpoint of giving birth to a baby, but because it gives them self-confidence and a positive attitude about themselves that they’ve never had before,” says Lana Hathaway, Crittenton’s board chair and closing coordinator for LandCraft Properties.

Becker, whose first son was adopted by her aunt, is raising three more sons on her own while paying her way through UNCC with the help of loans and Crittenton grants to buy books.

“Your life doesn’t have to end after having a child just because you’re a single mom,” she says. “I’ve always tried to raise my children in a good manner, and education has always been a top priority for me.”

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