“We believe in the significance of families and we support families,” said Ali Woodard, founder president and CEO of Fristers. “Fristers is a non-profit that supports teen parents, the youngest and most vulnerable families in our communities. We are completely focused on helping young families ages 13-25. Teen parents often get over-looked and judged. They’re amazed to find a group that accepts them and welcomes them in, especially since we meet in churches.”
“Ten years ago I wanted to help pregnant and parenting teens, something that grew out of my own pregnancy as a teenager,” she continued. “It is a passion of mine, based on my own experience. God put it on my heart to give back, to help young mothers.”
Ali explained that most teen families in the U.S. live in poverty, therefore lacking resources, opportunities, family support, and education. She said 80 percent of teen moms rely on welfare sometime and only about a third of teen moms obtain a high school diploma.
Babies born to teen moms are more likely to have health problems at birth, do poorly in school, do time in jail, and become teen parents themselves. Fristers, a word combining “friends” with “sisters,” is a program designed to change the statistics, to educate, encourage and empower young families for life.
“Children of teen parents suffer higher rates of abuse, neglect, and learning delays simply because young parents don’t know how to raise them,” Ali said. “The children aren’t in preschools, or prepared for kindergarten. Because there’s a great deal of domestic abuse and poverty in teen parenting, some children are being raised in violent situations that contribute to emotional disturbances such as anger, depression, and anxiety.”
According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy, in 2016 there were 209,480 births in the U.S. to girls 15-19 years old.
“Our mission is to provide a life changing program, starting with supporting a young person who chose life when facing an unplanned pregnancy,” Ali continued. “But we also help them face their unique challenges, grow in life skills, get high school diplomas, learn about healthy relationships, and building strong families since they lack role models. We help them become job ready and learn how to get out of poverty. Instead of judgment, they receive acceptance and unconditional love.”
Ali said that while teen moms typically aren’t with the biological fathers of their children, they’re usually in relationships. Some sort of male figure is acting as father, and needs help and guidance.
“Thanks to God, Fristers has morphed into a comprehensive program designed to serve teen mothers, teen fathers, and their children,” Ali said. “Everybody is getting fed physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and educationally. Fristers helps with transportation to and from meetings, and provides dinners.”
“We partner with multiple churches in Orange County; the first was at Mariners,” she continued. “Over 500 volunteers served with us last year. Our reason for Fristers is to love others, to share God’s love with everyone. There is no discrimination, every ethnicity is welcome, and there is no religious requirement to participate.”
Every May, Fristers holds a graduation ceremony for moms who reach 25 and have a high school diploma.
“We celebrate their growth since learning they were pregnant, when they were overwhelmed, depressed, often abandoned by family and friends, and didn’t know where to go. Some were still drinking and some in gangs,” Ali said. “Young parents gain self worth, learn God has a plan for them, and that people want to help them succeed. The transformation in the moms, in their children, and now with the dads, is amazing. Their future is hopeful.”
For further information, see fristers.org.
Cindy can be reached at [email protected]