Young Moms Lifted by Education

Even for 2020, it was an extraordinary graduation ceremony.

On an August day, thirteen young women in blue gowns gathered on a lawn in Holyoke with their kids, the staff and faculty of The Care Center, and an ice cream truck. When they threw their caps in the air, they became the 4th graduating class of Bard Microcollege at The Care Center.

Bard Microcollege graduation at The Care Center. Photo by Michael Zide.
Bard Microcollege graduation at The Care Center. Photo by Michael Zide.

“They did it all during a pandemic. They kept their goal in focus, taking Zoom classes, completing assignments all the while with kids jumping on their heads and handling the tasks of survival,” says Anne Teschner, executive director of The Care Center.

The Microcollege is one of the Center’s three programs that empower young pregnant or parenting women through education. The Center delivers wraparound services to young moms, often living below the poverty line, pursuing their GEDs or higher education.

“We deliver a clear message to young women,” says Teschner. “We tell them, you’re next in line. You are the next leaders. You’re going to step up and we’re here for you.”

When the pandemic hit, the women were in the middle of their studies, attending classes at the center. Within days, The Care Center had shifted its classes to Zoom and Google Classroom, and adapted its services to help women studying and caring for their children during a lockdown.

With a grant from the COVID-19 Response Fund, the Center bought laptops, ramped up its counseling, and helped keep the kids occupied while their moms studied.

“We heard from our students about fear, anxiety and the challenges of being cooped up with kids,” says Teschner. Counselors were in touch with students at least three times a week, assessing needs and moods and just providing human contact. The staff also delivered care packages that functioned as virtual Care Centers for moms and children – full of toys, crayons, diapers, chocolate, tampons, poetry, handmade masks, soaps, lotions and books.

One woman in the program became ill with COVID-19. She was quarantining in a shelter with her 2-year-old, and the Center made her an extra-special package with lots of extra toys. “It buoyed her for sure,” says Teschner.

The Care Center re-opened its building in July. People can now study 5 days a week remotely, or they can choose to do a blended model that includes classes in person and remotely via Zoom. Reflecting on the experience of the last 6 months, Teschner says, “We learned to fly a plane while building it. That’s what young mothers do every day.”