Merlene Davis: Family Care Center's program for young mothers, children celebrates 25 years

Herald-Leader columnistJuly 19, 2014 

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Sharon Aguilar, who graduated at the Family Care Center, held her daughter Isabell, 3. "At the Family Care Center, I was forced to be self-disciplined," Aguilar said. "The teacher says here's the work and you do it. It changed my whole outlook on schoolwork."

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  • IF YOU GO

    A reunion of staff, volunteers, graduates and children of the Family Care Center in celebration of the center's 25th anniversary.

    When: 1-4 p.m. July 26.

    Where: 1135 Red Mile Place.

    For information and to RSVP: Call (859) 288-4040.

When former Lexington Mayor Scotty Baesler learned I wanted to talk with him about the Family Care Center, he didn't wait for my call.

Instead, he called me to repeatedly say how proud he is of the program he and former Commissioner of Social Services Barbara Curry and Jean Sabharwal, then-director of the city's Early Childhood Center, started in 1989.

"I asked Jean and Barbara to put something together and they did," Baesler said. "It is one of the few programs I thought would make a difference."

And that it has.

During its 25 years, more than 500 mothers have graduated from the center's high school program and more than 7,000 children have attended the low-cost, nurturing child-care facility.

The mission is to help parents become self-sufficient, help children become successful, and to strengthen family units.

"I think it way exceeded my expectations," Sabharwal said. She served as director of the center for 20 years. "Everywhere I go I see Family Care Center graduates employed and bragging about what their children are doing. The next generation is doing so good. We just had to change the path of the families."

On July 26, the Family Care Center will be celebrating its 25 years by hosting a reunion of all its clients, children, volunteers and employees. Anyone who has been affiliated with the center is invited to stop by and share memories of what the family service program has meant to them.

When the idea was planted, Lexington already had Virginia Place, a transitional housing, training and child-care program for single parents, but Baesler wanted something for younger mothers who had not finished school and were struggling to provide for their families.

Nationwide, there had been a surge in teen pregnancies, with more than 1 million pregnancies attributed to girls ages 15 to 19 in 1989 alone. The phrase "children having children" was coined and the country feared having so many children condemned to living in poverty.

As a judge, Baesler had seen young girls come through his courtroom living under similar circumstances and "always thought they didn't have a chance." He believed the solution was to "get to the young children early."

That meant offering parenting skills to young mothers, dental care to the children, and a safe, educational environment in which mother and child could grow.

"It has grown a lot more than I thought it would," Baesler said. "It has been my favorite program. It is special to me."

It is special to Sharon Aguilar as well.

Aguilar, 20, gave birth while she was a junior at Lafayette High School in the SCAPA program. For two months, she had to leave her daughter with her brother while she attended class because the infant was not old enough to go to day care. And, because she was breast feeding, she had to find the time and space to express her breast milk.

That was more stress than any teen mother needed.

One day, her Health Access Nurturing Development Services worker suggested she attend classes at the center. "She explained the layout," Aguilar said, "and said it was self-paced. And she said I would get to see my daughter for 30 minutes a day."

Spending quality time with her daughter and free transportation won her over, she said. But the work was not easy.

"I was never self-disciplined," she said. "I would go to class and would never do the homework (at Lafayette).

"At the Family Care Center, I was forced to be self-disciplined," Aguilar said. "You don't sit in a lecture. The teacher says here's the work and you do it. It changed my whole outlook on schoolwork. When I got to college it was much easier."

Aguilar attends the Bluegrass Community & Technical College, studying for an associate's degree in science. "I want to be a doctor some day," she said.

Her daughter, Isabell, 3, is still enrolled in the center's child-care program.

If she were to recommend the center to other mothers, what would she say?

"I would say it is hard, but being at the Family Care Center makes it easy," she said. "I am still in touch with the teachers at the Family Care Center. That student-teacher relationship is just like an extra helping hand. They are part of our family."

Joanna Rodes, director of Family Services which oversees the center, said bonding is what separates the center from other programs.

"The center is not just special because of the work we do," she said. "It is the systems approach. The way we take care of our clients is special. We are better than a plain old child-care center."

The center offers high school classes, child care, a full-service pediatric clinic run by the University of Kentucky, the HANDS program, and a case management program that encircles the family with a team of supporters.

At a recent graduation, the clients voluntarily told their stories about how they were challenged by their teachers and the support staff. They also said meeting those challenges made them better mothers and adults.

When the facility opened, Baesler said, "If 15 years from now we can say that 35 young people were able to lead fuller, more productive lives," then the effort and the $2.9 million spent for the building would have been worth it.

Drop by the reunion on July 26. Listen to the memories and the sincere gratitude. Then tell any teen mother you know to sign up.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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