By Joel Hall
For the last three years, the House of Dawn Second-Chance Home in Jonesboro has offered homeless teenagers, between the ages of 13 and 19, a place to find shelter, stability, and to learn vital parenting skills.
As of late last month, the organization has been able to extend the program to offer mothers, between the ages of 18 and 21, a home of their own and a place to develop personal and financial independence.
The Transitional Living Program (TLP), an extension of the House of Dawn Second Chance Home, was made available by a recent grant from the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (G-CAPP). Through the grant, House of Dawn has been able to offer four young mothers highly-subsidized apartments for a period of 18 months, while they learn how to support themselves.
The goup's CEO and founder, Dawn Murray, said the new program "completes the circle" of services the second-chance home is able to provide.
"We've been open now for three years, and as a lot of our girls were getting older, a lot of them were not ready for total independence," said Murray. "Just like with our own children, from time to time, they are not totally ready to be on their own, and from time to time, they need assistance."
Each young mother and child are furnished with a one-bedroom apartment, complete with a living room, laundry room, and kitchen. Four women share a "life coach," a 24-7 mother figure who the women can call in case of emergencies.
There are some stipulations, however. The life coach will occasionally make unannounced visits to make sure the apartment is clean and that the baby is being given proper supervision and nutrition. There is no smoking in, or around, the premises. All mothers must work full-time, or part-time while attending school, and there are no overnight guests.
The women can have boyfriends, "as long as they are gone by a decent hour," said Murray. She said the 11 p.m., curfew is in place for the safety of the women, to ensure that the baby has adequate rest, and to give the women time to focus on themselves.
Donikka Chism, 18, originally from the Chicago area, was homeless in Atlanta before entering the program. She moved into her new apartment with her two-month-old daughter, Dana, last Thursday.
"I never knew my father, and my mother wasn't stable enough to take care of us," said Chism. "I was ready to make a change and this gave me the opportunity I needed to make that change.
"It means a lot, because I don't want my child to go through what I went through," Chism continued. "I want her to have a sense of stability in her life." Through the TLP, Chism is looking for secretarial work and plans to enter Clayton State University in August to study business administration.
Ashley Buffington, 20, recently made the transition from the House of Dawn Second-Chance Home to the TLP with her 4-year-old daughter, Indya. Through the independence she has gained through the program, Buffington said she was recently able to save up enough money to purchase her first car, a 2002 Hyundai Elantra.
"I saved up my own money and I paid cash for it," said Buffington. "That's a big accomplishment for somebody who they said wouldn't do anything, or be nothing. I feel like I've accomplished a lot."
Buffington said that she is still adjusting to living by herself, instead of with several other young mothers in the second-chance home.
"It feels good, but sometimes I get lonely," said Buffington. "Even though I am on my own, I still have that help from the second-chance home. They are not going to go anywhere ... they are my family."
On Saturday, in order to welcome the young mothers into their new homes, House of Dawn will host a housewarming event, in which the program will accept bedding, pillows, towels, dishes, toddler items, kitchenware, cleaning supplies, and other needed household accessories. The general public will be invited for light refreshments while donations are being accepted.
"This is a good way for people to see the progress of the program," said Murray. The event will take place from 2-5 p.m, on Saturday, June 7, at 298 South Main Street in Jonesboro. For more information, call (770) 477-2385.