Walking with Moms: Family Youth Initiative
Building healthy future generations begins with providing support for younger generations today. That’s according to Nikki Stefanow, Executive Director of Family and Youth Initiatives, based in New Carlisle. Since its inception as a crisis pregnancy hotline some 44 years ago, Family and Youth Initiatives (FYI) has added support for new parents, mentoring for youth, programs for middle and high schoolers and, surprisingly, a community garden. (Overseen by Jim Tipton, son of an FYI founder, what could be more apropos than a community garden when your goal is to grow healthy youth?)
Stefanow said founders Carol Tipton and Pat Banaszak started the hotline in 1978 to provide pregnancy tests for young women who called in.
“And from there, they realized that these girls needed more than a pregnancy test,” said Stefanow, “They needed some mentoring and counseling, and [so we] worked with them in helping them keep their babies.”
The founders then connected with Tri-County Right to Life and found space at a local church to meet with young ladies and provide counseling, using the Heritage House curriculum, which gives guidance on pregnancy and parenting skills. The New Carlisle organization added two more locations, in Springfield and Fairborn, and the name was changed to the Women’s Network, until a few years ago.
“We changed the name to the Parenting Network because we had more dads coming in,” said Stefanow. “We know that getting them to keep their baby is only a portion of them having a good life. They need to know how to parent their child.”
About 25 years ago, Stefanow said, volunteers and staffers noticed a huge increase in the number of calls from girls as young as 12 asking for pregnancy tests.
“Now most of them were not pregnant, most of them were not even doing anything to get pregnant, but they didn’t know that,” said Stefanow, who became executive director in July 2020. “And so they started doing a Real Life Teen Choices program back then. Now, we do a 5-day in-school program where we go in and talk to them about abstinence, setting long-term goals, healthy relationships and all kinds of at-risk behaviors. Right now, vaping is huge so we talk to them about that as well. We go into middle schools and high schools in seven different counties.”
The mentoring program, which includes both one-on-one and group settings, is available in elementary, middle and high schools, and the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center. Stefanow said the group has learned through the years the importance of a caring adult building a relationship with the youth.
“When we become that for them, they start opening up and they start sharing things … and we’re able to get those children identified and get them the help that they need then.”
Stefanow said that each year the Parenting Network counsels 250 families; the mentoring program sees about 150 children; and the Real Life Teen Choices program is presented to 5,000 students. It’s all done with a staff of 20 and 55 volunteers, “but we could easily use 100 volunteers.”
They serve clients in additional ways through phone and Zoom appointments. Stefanow noted that a number of experienced volunteers dropped out of the front lines during the pandemic. While she misses their wealth of knowledge, she said the shutdown forced her and the team to refocus their programs.
Looking to the future, Stefanow said that regardless of the forthcoming Supreme Court decision, “I think we’re going to see the same things we’re seeing—people who want to keep their babies, who want to be good parents and they want some support to do that. They want some skills and they want some education. They want to have hope that they can move forward.”
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This article appeared in the July 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.