This story was in the Asheville Citizen-Times on Monday, November 16.
Giving Tree at YWCA to help MotherLove
by Sandra V. Rodriguez
For Tangela Ballard-Bowman’s girls, the joy of Christmas relies on the Giving Tree.
“Giving Tree is a special time of year for us,” said Ballard-Bowman, director of the YWCA’s MotherLove program for pregnant teens and teen mothers. “It’s a chance where our community can … make someone’s Christmas very, very special.”
Each year, Ballard-Bowman will have the young women fill out a card with their “wish list,” a series of questions such as that “special one thing” they want for Christmas, along with clothing sizes for them and their babies. Their wish list will then be written on the back of a star available for those participating in the Giving Tree program.
This year’s tree went up last week at the YWCA of Asheville, 185 S. French Broad Ave.
And that is just one aspect of the program Ballard-Bowman refers to as “my baby,” a program she has poured her energy into making the girls feel they are not alone. “These girls are trying their best to have a chance in life and sometimes they need a little push or a little help,” Ballard-Bowman said.
The MotherLove program has helped hundreds of girls as young as 12 since the program started about 20 years ago by pairing pregnant or young mothers with mentors, who provide support during a difficult time for the girls. Mentors volunteer for eight hours a month or more, with at least two hours in by phone or in person, with the girls.
“We have one (mentor) that’s had the same girl for I think it’s going on four years, and they are an awesome team. We love to see those kinds of mentor matches, but I am afraid a lot of times, when we have great mentor matches, when that participant goes out of the program, that mentor is leaving with that participant.”
That’s a role Ballard-Bowman is familiar with, too. She has lost count of the number of calls she’s received in the middle of the night in the last eight years. But all the dedication and support the soft-spoken woman pours into each of her girls paid off.
“Every one of them has a purpose and destiny,” she said, “and that’s the part that I play to make sure that they can identify within themselves that they are strong women and that they can overcome any obstacle in their lives, including being a teenage mom and still stay in school and still go to college and get a degree.”
And that’s exactly what Jane Lytle, 18, a senior at Owen High School in Swannanoa, is on track to do. She will be graduating early in January. She wants to enroll at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and earn a nursing degree.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted to do,” Lytle said. “But now that I have a baby, I have to do this; I have to do better for her.”
Lytle has been in the program for about three years. She and her 1-year-old girl, Lyric Greene, were at a recent Lunch Bunch at Owen High. Lunch Bunch is a gathering open to any pregnant teen or teen mother and is held once a month at Asheville, Erwin, Owen and Community high schools.
Another success story is Chelsea Finley, a freshman at Western Carolina University.
Finley came into the program in the ninth or 10th grade, Ballard-Bowman said. She became Finley’s mentor; she did things like drive Finley to the doctor when her mother wasn’t able to do it and check up on her and make sure she was on task. Finley earned the Dell Scholarship for $20,000.
“It makes me feel really good that the MotherLove had a part of that. I tell my girls to … keep you’re head up, keep going forward, reach you’re goal in life, and that’s what the girls do.”
Want to help?
• MotherLove’s annual Giving Tree is on display in the lobby of the YWCA, 185 S. French Broad Ave., and people can now pick up a star, each bearing wishes from a teen mother. The donated presents can be returned to the YWCA and will be given to the teen mother at the annual holiday party.
• To learn more about mentoring opportunities or the Giving Tree, call MotherLove Director Tangela Ballard-Bowman at 254-7206, ext. 116.
Photo caption: YWCA Mother Love director Tangela Ballard-Bowman stands holds a star for the agency’s Giving Tree, which have written on them Christmas wish lists for area teen moms and moms-to-be who participate in the program. Those interested in donating can pick up a star, shop for the teen and drop the gifts off at the YWCA. (John Coutlakisfirstname.lastname@example.org)