n the United States, being a pregnant teenager or a teen parent still is not widely accepted. Many people turn their backs on young parents, thinking they are incapable of achieving success, as if having a child handicaps them in some way.
There’s a place in Chautauqua County where, for the past 18 years, pregnant teens and young new parents have gone to develop skills that help them to prove those people wrong.
The Zafron Home for Pregnant and Parenting Teens in Salamanca is a seven-bedroom residence for pregnant and parenting teenagers as young as 14. Through Zafron Home’s treatment-oriented program, the teens learn how to take care of their children and also how to take care of and develop themselves.
Young people are referred to the Zafron Home by social services departments across New York State. Lengths of stay vary depending on the case.
At Zafron Home, each resident has his or her own bedroom that includes a crib for the baby. There are also large shared living spaces, including a nursery where the parents play with their babies to build strong bonds.
Kathy DiLallo, director of Zafron Home, was one of the people who helped develop the program.
DiLallo said a typical day at Zafron Home begins when the teen parents wake up at about 5 or 5:30 a.m. and get themselves dressed and ready for the day. They then tend to their babies – changing their diapers, feeding them and so on. Before getting on the bus at 7 a.m. to go to school in the Salamanca School District, they fill out care sheets that tell staff members things they’ll need to know concerning the care of the babies while they’re at school.
The moment they come back from school, they tend to their babies and play with them to build strong bonds.
They all sit down together for dinner. After dinner there are chores, and after that is time to study. By 9 p.m., they get ready for lights out. In between, there are community activities that help them blossom as a family.
That includes sessions on parenting skills, pre- and postnatal care, well-baby care, coping strategies, meal planning, cooking, shopping and other household skills.
A variety of community agencies, including Cornell Cooperative Extension and Healthy Families, provide these educational and skill-building opportunities.
Zafron Home is staffed 24/7. It offers a team of youth counselors and a social worker. In addition, a tutor comes in three to four times a week to help the teens with any issues they have with their schoolwork.
Theresa Thomas is one of the many teen parents who have come out of Zafron Home who is proving that teen parents are, in fact, capable of doing whatever they choose to do.
Thomas is now a successful entrepreneur in Buffalo. She runs "Once Upon a Sleepover," which organizes sleepover parties, and also bakes creative cakes.
Thomas says she grew into her success through willpower, determination and traits she developed at Zafron Home. When she first arrived, Thomas admitted she "... hated it. It was far away, it was in the country, there was nothing around."
She recalled that the infants’ irregular sleep schedules meant there was lots of noise and missed sleep. But she adapted, and learned to be patient and level-headed. Eventually, she said, she saw "it had good points, I just didn’t see it at first."
One of the things Thomas appreciated most about Zafron Home is the structure it provided.
The daily schedule and chores slowly accustom the residents to living on their own and raising a child.
Thomas said the experience taught her the traits of a woman of substance. But the friendships are what made it all count.
The staff, she said, really made a difference. They were friendly and helped out with the babies, and most importantly were happy to make the girls happy and feel at home. Thomas said she still keeps in contact with some of the staff to this day.
This is not uncommon, either. DiLallo said most of the residents keep in touch after they’ve moved on.
DiLallo said she tells the girls who are discharged that just because they’re discharged doesn’t mean that they can’t keep in contact. If they ever need help with running the house, or any other advice, Zafron Home is still their home, just as the staff members are like surrogate family members, as well.
"We’re always there for them no matter what," DiLallo said firmly.
Anna Lin is a freshman at Williamsville East High School.