Foundation grant helps fund home for teen parents

The old HOPE headquarters at 169 Main Street, far left, may become housing for homeless teen parents. A recent grant brought the dream one step closer.

CLAREMONT – A grant from the New Hampshire Women's Foundation (NHWF) will bring a local organization closer to its goal of providing a safe home for homeless teen parents. 

The NHWF announced recently a grant of $5,000 to the Claremont Learning Partnership (CLP), to provide transitional housing for teen parents completing their high school education. CLP  seeks to create a community that values and supports lifelong learning in Claremont.

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Young parents who can't live with their own parents end up couch surfing, sleeping in cars, or other bad situations. 

Cathy Pellerin, CLP co-chair, works for the school district coordinating early childhood care. 

“We realized we had a lot of teens couch-surfing with babies,” said Pellerin. She had been working with homeless children up to 5 years old when she realized she was working with the parents, too. “The shelter can't accept them because they're not 18. They can't sign a lease. Even if they're working and going to school full time, nobody's going to rent to them.”

Right now, there are six homeless teen parents in Claremont, and CLP may not have money, but it has a plan. “We've been writing grants like crazy,” said Pellerin. 

They'd like to turn 169 Main Street, which is in the same building as CLP and the One For All Childcare Center, into housing for those teenagers. 

Six bedrooms, a large common kitchen, an office for support workers, and multiple bathrooms are in the plan. The building is an easy walk to downtown, Leo's Grocery, and not far from Stevens High School. Construction workers have already gutted the space and are hard at work putting in wiring, ducts, and walls. 

“Right now we're retrofitting the building,” said Pellerin. The projected budget for the makeover is $146,000, so Pellerin is hoping that some of the 15 or so grants they've applied for will help. 

The house, like CLP's other projects, is as supported by the community as they can make it. “I think we have MOUs [memoranda of understanding] with everybody in Claremont,” said Pellerin. TLC assists with parenting classes; Counseling Associates will offer services, Cindy Stevens of the soup kitchen has pledged to provide food for cooking classes. 

“We want to make sure they have a community resource that's bigger than us; we don't know how old they'll be when they cycle out of the program.” Some of the young parents may be able to move back in with their own parents, with the right supports, others will graduate high school and go into college or vocational training, or work. All of them will have a goal of finishing high school. 

When they do leave the program, childcare will still be available as long as they need it, until the child enters kindergarten. Pellerin said they prepare the parents for working life and the children for school. 

New Hampshire's teen birth rate is often touted as either the lowest or second-lowest in the nation, averaging about 9.3 teen births per 1,000, as of 2016. In contrast, slightly older data from 2010-2012 show Sullivan county's teen birth rate is significantly higher, 25.4 per 1,000, according to the state Division of Public Health Services. The good news is that the national teen pregnancy rate — 20.6 per 1,000 in 2016, according the CDC — has been dropping for years, due largely to the availability of long-acting birth control as well as greater abstinence. 

Pellerin said that CLP has received help from a number of businesses and organizations in the community, including the Elks, Kiwanis, the Dorothy Burns Foundation, Claremont Savings Bank, and Mascoma Savings Bank. 

The New Hampshire Women's Foundation granted a total of $75,000 to projects supporting women and girls in the state, shared to 19 different organizations. 

“Not only is supporting organizations that offer innovative and promising solutions to issues related to gender equality part of our mission,” said CEO, Tanna Clews, “but it is critical to building strong communities. ”

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