WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
PHOTO | GENERATIONS AHEAD
Brightening the Future for Families in the Grand Traverse Area
Unplanned pregnancies are happy events for many – but not all. Starting a family has challenges, particularly for teen parents.
Grand Traverse area residents have been quietly aiding these young people for over 40 years through Generations Ahead. This nonprofit organization provides a comprehensive support system for teen parents and their children. Guided by three dedicated staff members and with a host of mentors and a generous, caring community, Generations Ahead works to enrich the lives of these families today and for years to come.
The future of the organization itself is also promising. Generations Ahead has recently completed a three-year trial program in partnership with the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, the Traverse City Area Public Schools, and a small group of dedicated local philanthropists. The nonprofit has also undertaken a new fundraising campaign, inviting “Empowerment Partners” to make steady, reliable contributions toward bright futures.
“We have an incredibly generous community willing to help each other,” stated Marjie Rich, the director at Generations Ahead. “I believe that our community has a really strong sense of commitment to each other. People want to help. When they learn about the issues and the needs, they donate and volunteer.”
The agency is unique in its mission and services. Whereas other important programs and agencies address specific needs, such as food or getting a GED, Generations Ahead focuses on the comprehensive circumstances of teens – both moms and dads – who are parenting their own children. These include housing, health and wellness, partner and/or family relationship issues, education, and careers. Some clients have experienced domestic violence, and Generations Ahead helps to navigate that, too, but that is just one of its goals.
Generations Ahead offers support services such as counseling, parenting groups, peer group meetings, mentoring with volunteers, home visits, a baby pantry, and much more. The agency even helps with urgent financial needs, such as providing diapers and wipes, clothing, and gas cards to ensure the teens can get back and forth from home to school.
Emotional support includes efforts to bring a sense of normalcy and to provide motivation. Sometimes the help is as simple as providing a safe space for clients to come and talk.
The agency impacts teenage lives in surprising ways. According to Rich, a recent group visit to the Traverse City farmers market demonstrated that, while many clients had grown up in rural environments, selecting fresh fruits and vegetables at a market was a new endeavor. In another instance, a young family was encouraged to get pictures taken with the Easter Bunny, a ritual entirely new to that family.
Generations Ahead’s mentoring program also makes a huge impact. Volunteers work with clients for about a year, which is particularly rewarding because the volunteers get to know the couples and help them find their way. Mentors are matched to teens with similar interests so they can enjoy activities together and help alleviate isolation. The organization is always looking to expand its pool of mentors, and future funding is slated for recruiting more men to become mentors.
Trying to keep up with studies while caring for a newborn can be overwhelming, so the agency partners with schools to help teenagers complete their education. The goal is for the parents to finish high school, then find work, job training, or post-secondary education, all while raising healthy, happy children.
Transportation options are also limited in the rural areas the organization serves. It’s difficult to get to school, and affording daycare is beyond most families. Traverse City High School provides free, in-house childcare.
Because housing is another major challenge, Generations Ahead also partners with the health department and other social service agencies. “This population has rather invisible needs. Many are in housing-insecure situations. They may be living in a car or a tent. Renting is difficult when a teenager has no track record,” Rich said. “And these are perpetuating issues for families. Seventy-five percent of this population are in insecure housing situations.”
The agency is currently involved with only about 40 of the estimated 75 teen pregnancies that occur each year across the five-county area. “Some people have preconceived notions about these young adults. But they’re rarely in this precarious situation on purpose. In many cases, the teens do not feel in control of their own destiny. We’ll help them navigate through that shift,” stated Rich.
Generations Ahead is largely supported by individual donations and foundations. The new Empowerment Partner program asks donors to commit to gifts of $5,000 to $10,000 annually. The goal is to create and support a community where all parents and their children are resilient, thriving, and engaged. Contributions enable these new parents to grow into great parents.
“Our goal is to raise enough funding to confidently expand services into the next year. Thankfully, we haven’t turned anyone away yet.”
3962 3 Mile Road N
Traverse City MI 49686
(231) 360-0053 l GenerationsAhead.org