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Teen mom sets sights on bright future

COAL GROVE — Shelby Wilson walked across the stage Sunday at Dawson-Bryant High School to collect her diploma, just like the rest of her classmates.

But unlike most of her graduating class who are just now stepping out into the real world, adulthood came sooner than expected for this teen.

In her junior year at Dawson-Bryant, Wilson found out she was pregnant. Despite knowing her life would change completely as a teen mother, Wilson said her path was clear.

“There are options, but you just have to step up,” Wilson said. “You have to grow up. You only have nine months to grow up.”

Wilson isn’t the only teen in the county, or even at her own high school, to find themselves young parents.

Thanks to the GRADS program through Collins Career Center, those teen parents have somewhere to turn for parenting education and moral support.

Joan Reed is one of the instructors for the GRADS program, now in its 28th year. Through the service, instructors visit all the schools in the county once a week and meet with pregnant and parenting teens to discuss their future, literacy and development in their children. The program also hosts events and provides supplies to help the new parents, such as books and safety kits.

Reed said she tells her students, “Your life is not over. It is different.”

One of the main goals of the program is to keep the pregnant and parenting teens in school.

“A lot of our students really require a lot of our help to keep in school,” Reed said.

Nationally, Reed said, more than half of teens who become pregnant in high school drop out before graduation. Locally, with the GRADS program, 96 percent stay in school, she said.

Even though she would be parenting alone, Wilson said she knew she wanted to continue school to graduate.

“Youre life is completely different compared to before you have a baby, to when you have a baby,” Wilson said. “You don’t get to do anything you want to do … you have a responsibility now. Then you lose a lot of friends too. You can’t go out and do whatever anytime you want. They don’t understand.”

Wilson also gave up her passion — softball.

“Softball was everything to me before I had (Addison),” she said. “I always said I would never give it up, even after her. I had it all planned out … Then after I had her, it just totally changed. I went to two practices, but it was too much time away from her.”

Wilson said she doesn’t regret the decision. She also took early graduation in December to have more time with her daughter. She took some college classes at Mountwest to get ahead.

“I did that for (Addison), Wilson said. “I knew I had to try and get ahead. I always said I would go to college and I still am.”

The GRADS program also helped Wilson with childcare thanks to a grant from the World Childcare Foundation.

Founded by Queen Silvia of Sweden, the WCF helps at-risk children all over the world and promotes safe and secure living conditions for them.

“The grant was to provide some child care and travel subsidies for teen parents who couldn’t receive it from the Department of Job and Family Services,” Reed said.

Wilson said the grant helped her tremendously since she didn’t have a job for the first three months of Addison’s life.

“What really made me sick to my stomach, when (Addison) was first born, my mother had to pay for her,” Wilson said. “And it wasn’t her responsibility. It was my responsibility. I couldn’t stand it. When Joan told me about the grant, I was so thankful. I hated for that to be on my mom’s shoulders, because my mom already raised me.”

The grant also brought Wilson an unexpected opportunity to travel to New York City to speak at a symposium hosted by the WCF.

“(Reed) asked me if I wanted to go to New York and talk about teen pregnancy and about GRADS. I was excited about it,” Wilson said.

Wilson sat on a panel and fielded questions with other teen parents and experts in the field of teen parenting at the symposium.

“There were questions about what would you change, how do you think you could prevent teenage pregnancy around here … how do you think we could get males more involved,” Wilson said.

Wilson said she was nervous, but the experience of hearing everyone else’s thoughts on teen pregnancy and parenting was interesting.

Reed said the executive director of the North American WCF Charlotte Brandin, would visit Lawrence County this week to meet with some of the GRADS students.

“She wants to find out how GRADS had helped, and the grant, and what additional help do they need to be successful in life,” Reed said.

Since Wilson graduated, she is no longer in the GRADS program, but it helped her see she can still have the future she wants.

Wilson said she was considering attending CCC to enroll in the radiology program to study to be an ultrasound technician, inspired by a part of her pregnancy that she enjoyed.