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Merlene Davis: Program that helps young moms needs your help

The email from Step By Step Inc., a non-denominational Christian support program for mostly teenage unwed mothers, was pretty direct.

"We are incredibly blessed with a large body of volunteers to take on the big task of serving these broken and wounded families," it read. "Where we lack is in the area of funding. While Step By Step's expenses are bare bones, it does take some money to run this ministry. And the money is low. It has been for some time."

The email was written by Christy Hiler, president of the program's board of directors.

Members of my church and I have donated food to that group, and I knew they operated on a shoestring, but I had never heard such a fervent plea for help.

I called Susan Freeman, the program's co-founder and director, to find out what was up.

The program needs about $8,000 to make ends meet each month, she said. That pays for rent — its offices are on East High Street — office supplies and other expenses that a lot of grants don't like to cover. April knocked the group for a loop: Quarterly employee taxes of $2,000 wiped it out.

The organization, which was developed by three women who saw a need for correcting the paths of teen moms, can usually get donated food for the mothers and their children to enjoy at their twice monthly meetings. But budgets at the eight churches that support the mission have tightened, and monetary donations from many sources have dried up.

The program meets every other Thursday evening from September to May. Mothers take their children to child-care rooms where volunteers await with a meal, activities and a Bible lesson. The mothers eat and socialize before listening as a speaker offers information about resources and life skills or career advice. Then, they divide into smaller groups to study the Bible or discuss real-life issues such as anger and stress, or how to avoid the wrong kind of men, Freeman said.

In 1995, Freeman, Terri Behrens and Tammy Fryman recognized a need to break the cycle of teenage, unwed pregnancy that had become generational. They wanted mothers to teach mothers.

The program began at Crossroads Christian Church and moved to Immanuel Baptist Church on Tates Creek Road in 1997. That's where it still meets.

During the past two years, Freeman said, 202 mothers, representing 270 children, have attended at least one meeting. Those mothers become a part of the program for four years, welcomed to return at any time.

Through a grant, the program has hired a client program director to oversee volunteers and keep track of the young mothers.

"We are literally pulling them out of the dark into the light," Freeman said.

Although the program has two fund-raisers scheduled in June, it really needs help now, she said.

The group still is having trouble getting through April, "and May might be tight, too," she said.

To donate a minimum of $10 online, go to SBSlex.org and click on "Donation Opportunities," or mail a donation of any amount to Step By Step Inc., P.O. Box 593, Lexington, Ky. 40588.

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