Teen pregnancy is an issue in the U.S. that wounds teen mothers, their children and taxpayers. The Open Door is building partnerships in South Florida to address the needs of the teens and their children while saving tax payer’s dollars. The guiding verse undergoing The Open Door is Revelations 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with Me.”
Deana Cernaglia, founder and president of The Open Door believes, “It is not the government’s responsibility to take care of widows and orphans, but it is God’s. As His people, we are His feet and hands, glorifying Him every step of the way.”
Cost of teen pregnancy
According to a study by Saul Hoffman, Ph.D. of the University of Delaware and released by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies, the annual cost to taxpayers associated with teen childbearing in the U.S. in 2010 alone was $9.4 billion. This was $1.5 billion dollars less than 2008 due to declining births to teen mothers. The number of births to women under age 20 in the U.S. was approximately 372,000. In Florida, the costs to tax payers were estimated at $443 million.
Most of these costs are connected to the negative outcomes for the children of teen mothers. Some of the most significant costs include $2.1 billion in public sector health care costs, 3.1 billion in child welfare costs, and $2 billion in costs of incarceration. The costs to the teen mothers in terms of education, opportunities for employment, relationships, and personal and professional development have significant consequences for their children.
Cerniglia knows the challenges teen parents face. Her mother was 16 when she became pregnant with her. She was forced to drop out of high school and landed in an abusive marriage. “I know the obstacles a teen mother has in front of her, and I know the importance of supporting her while she completes her goals to finish her education and find a secure work environment. Without support, most teen mothers will end up on welfare and pregnant again before the age of 20,” says Cerniglia.
The Open Door is designed to address the challenge of teen pregnancy by leveraging the human and spiritual resources of the church community. The mission of The Open Door is “Mentoring teen mothers into independence through the love, grace and accountability of Jesus Christ.” This is accomplished through a variety of strategies including, but not limited to, parenting, job skills, budgeting, relationships, healthy lifestyle practices and spiritual development. Cerniglia adds, “The most important, and probably the foundational aspect of our program, is that we match each teen mother with a Christian mentor. She walks through the three-year program with her teen mother.”
In order to participate in the program, teen mothers must sign a contract agreeing to finish or continue their education, work full-time or part-time, delay further pregnancies and participate in weekly, lifeskill classes on the topics listed above. The Open Door assists with childcare to help the teen mother to fulfill these requirements. Cerniglia notes, “We fundraise to supplement the overwhelming cost of daycare, which is the largest hurdle for our young mothers to attain their goals. It only costs $5,000 a year to supplement day care and keep a young mother on the path to independence and off of government assistance.”
The Open Door is demonstrating clear outcomes of their work with teen moms and their children. Participants have been able to live independently, acquire a vehicle, enroll in college, open a savings/checking account and gain CNA licensure. Additionally, the organization has expanded to include three partners in Palm Beach: First Presbyterian Church in North Palm, Christ Fellowship and Calvary Chapel in Lake Worth. Each organization accepts seven women. “We have four young ladies graduating our three year program this year. We couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments, their fortitude and their perseverance,” said Cernaglia.
There are numerous opportunities to volunteer through short-term and long-term commitments. Christians can select the area that aligns with their gifts. Examples include Lifeskill Class Leader, fundraising, marketing, mentor, child care, grant writing, or care team that plans celebrations for the teen moms. Volunteers can also become Church Champion to raise awareness about the Open Door Program among church leaders.
In her memoir, “The Open Door,” Cernaglia shares how generational sin can create chaos and destruction in a family. She shows how God can break generational sin by pointing to the wisdom and stories given to us in the Bible. In addition, Cernaglia has written a parenting book called Words from the Wise, which discusses the importance of dealing with dysfunction in our lives before passing it down to our children. If you are interested in partnering with The Open Door to break generational cycles, two generations at a time, go to www.breakingcycles.net or visit www.mentorsforteenmothers.org.
Terry Morrow, Ph.D. is the president of Morrow and Associates Partnership for Leadership and Transformation. She is an assistant dean and assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University. She can be reached at [email protected].