Raising children is a complex juggling act that requires parents to act as nurturers, providers and disciplinarians. For many teen and young adult mothers, the difficulty of moving between so many complex roles is exacerbated by limited access to education and difficulty entering a competitive job market.
Eight years ago, Samora Coles wanted to help the young mothers she encountered while working as Reproductive Health Coordinator with the Red Hook Initiative (RHI). Her hope was that, with some assistance, she could help young mothers become self-sufficient and move away from public assistance programs. With the help of RHI, she established a weekly support group that gave mothers an open forum to discuss their challenges and concerns.
“Our group was different from other parenting classes, in that all of the girls were young mothers,” said Coles. “There was no judgment. Everyone was in it together.”
Her Young Mother Empowerment Program thrived, eventually connecting over 70 young mothers with valuable employment and educational resources. In February of 2013, Coles became the Founder and Executive Director of The Alex House Project, her own comprehensive leadership development program for young mothers. The program is named for Coles’ own son, whom she gave birth to at age 17. Alex House currently shares space with BumbleBees R Us Day Care in Red Hook.
All new mothers in the program are enrolled in Healthy Mommy, Healthy Baby, a series of classes that teach non-violent parenting techniques, parent-child bonding, and age-appropriate expectations of children, as well as basic parenting skills. After women have completed their initial course, they are invited to contribute to The Alex House as Peer Parent Educators and to lead incoming women through their courses.
To address the difficulties that young or single mothers often face in finding jobs, Alex House is developing an Entrepreneurial Training Program. The program will pair women with female business owners who will serve as mentors to young women who are interested in starting their own businesses. The program is currently being tested with Liberty Tax Services and Sister Sookie Hair Spa, in hopes that with some success, the program will be expanded over the next year.
“As women, we tend to look for jobs,” Coles says. “No one ever tells you to create the job. We want to create opportunities for our moms to start their own businesses.”
Coles considers her work a labor of love. She communicates regularly with all of the program participants, and believes she has a personal stake in their success. However, she stresses that the mothers are the heart and soul of the program. Women come to The Alex House Project voluntarily and typically spend a year completing the courses. Participants not only take advantage of the services offered, but also help with operational functions such as administrative support, website maintenance and marketing efforts.
“The girls have a 100% stake in the program. When that happens, they are more likely to complete the program and tell others about it,” Coles says.
Though the program is a work in progress there is already plenty of cause for celebration. Michelle Robles, a program participant and mother of two, will become the Alex House Social Worker after receiving her degree in Social Work from NYU in the spring.
Coles’ son, Alex, will also be graduating in the spring from Coastal Carolina University with a degree in Communications. He is planning to continue his education and pursue a Master’s degree.
Programs are funded in large part by private donors, and The Alex House Project is always accepting gently used clothing and baby gear, as well as diapers and baby wipes.
The Alex House Project is located at 76 Lorraine Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231. 347-792-2109 http://www.alexhouseproject.com.