Iris is one of 30 teenage mothers that attend Open Space, a community outreach program of St. George's Church, Newburgh. Three years ago Iris gave birth to Crystal, when she was only 15 years old. Although her family lived in Newburgh they were unable to provide much support. Iris was scared and worried. When she was referred to Open Space she was afraid she might not fit in. Now she knows better.
Over the years both Iris and Crystal have become integral parts of Open Space. In fact, Crystal took her first steps at Open Space, just two weeks short of her first birthday.
The stigma facing a teenage mother can at times be very strong. Iris recalls the time her teacher refused to sign a petition to keep her Daycare Center open; telling Iris he wasn't going to pay for her mistakes with his taxes. Nancy Faddis-Decerbo, the director of Open Space, understands Iris' predicament. She was a young, single mom once too. Open Space works to combat that stigma and to provide these young mothers and children with the love and support they need. At Open Space young mothers are offered hope and a sense of community. Many of the young mothers have become great friends here, sharing everything; love, advice, clothes for the kids.
The Open Space program concentrates on teaching mothers how to be better parents. They help these young mothers build self-esteem by achieving definable goals. For instance, they help the mothers teach their children to read. Iris used to hate to read. But because of the efforts at Open Space, she now loves it. Not only is Iris reading more, but Crystal reads on her own at home too, making up the words when she doesn't understand them.
Iris remarks that the first thing Crystal says when she wakes up every day is, 'Good Morning, Mommy. I love you." Maybe that's why Iris thinks so highly of Nancy. Nancy has helped her to stay in school even when Iris thought Crystal needed more time and attention than her own school work. Iris says she couldn't have done it without Open Space. Iris has just been accepted to Mount Saint Mary's College in Newburgh. She will major in Education and wants to teach Kindergarten to 6th grade. She wouldn't have it any other way. It's the best way, she says, to give back the love and time that Nancy and Open Space have given to her and Crystal.