Karina Dela Torre, 19, and Naily Cervantes, 21, have experienced what it is like to be teen parents with no place to live, and now they are dedicated to helping others in the same situation.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Meeting to put together the final details of a community event are Naily Cervantes, with her children Leylah, 2, and Alyne, 5, and Karina Dela Torre, with her children, Adan, 3, and Alayna, 1.  They, and two other young women, will host the Teen Parent Housing Solutions Community Meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, March 3, at Pietro’s Pizza in downtown Milwaukie.

“We want to get other teen parents informed; some feel ashamed and our organization is trying to help them. They are so used to being rejected, and we are trying to open their eyes and prove to them we are trying to do something different for teen parents in the future,” Cervantes said.

Both Dela Torre and Cervantes note that they are most emphatically not the stereotypical teen parent: both are married to the fathers of their children and both finished high school. Cervantes graduated from beauty school and works as a nail tech at a high-end spa. Dela Torre earned her GED through North Clackamas School District’s PACE program and is enrolled at Clackamas Community College in the medical assistant program.

Both credit their success to Madonna’s Center, a Milwaukie nonprofit organization devoted to serving teen parents in Clackamas County. Madonna’s Center volunteers helped the girls earn a Catholic Campaign for Human Development grant to put on the community meeting.

“The grant is designed to empower people who are disadvantaged in any way advocate for themselves,” said Monica Lodolini, a Madonna’s Center board member and director of community advocacy.

The purpose of the housing-solutions meeting is “to bring awareness to the fact that teen parents, even up to age 20, are not eligible for renting an apartment, since they have no rental history,” she said.

Describing herself as the project facilitator for the upcoming event, Lodolini added that the purpose of the community meeting was to look for ways to help teen parents connect to services to bridge the housing gap, and find other teen parents who are struggling at the same time.

HUD — the federal Housing and Urban Development Agency — “can’t help someone age 18 and younger and sometimes can’t help those 19 or 20. In all our discussions, we have determined that age discrimination is the root cause of all the problems facing teen parents; they can’t even stay in a shelter,” Lodolini said. “I had the same issues with housing 14 years ago when I was a teen parent, and these moms are still facing this now.”

“When I was a teen parent, no one wanted to house me and my husband and they didn’t want to help us with food stamps, because we lived with my mother-in-law, even though we were trying to pay our own rent and for our own food,” Cervantes said.

“I got pregnant when I was 15 and I didn’t have support from my family. I did have support from the baby’s dad, but we were couch hopping. Now we are married and have our own house,” Dela Torre said. “There are so many places that help the homeless, but they don’t help those under age.”

Community meeting

Anyone who is or has been a teen parent or who would like to help them is invited to attend the Teen Parent Housing Solutions Community Meeting; it is free and food and child care are both provided.

“We have invited agencies that help with rent and utilities to come to the meeting, along with organizations like Love Inc. and St. Vincent de Paul,” Dela Torre said.

Cervantes added that a representative from Rent Well, an organization that offers classes on how to be a tenant and then gives participants a certificate of completion to show to potential landlords, will also be there.

Lynne Deshler, the Clackamas County coordinator of the Ten Year Plan to Address Homelessness, will also attend the event.

Teen parents should come to the meeting, Dela Torre said, “because it will show them the community is with them and will help them with the challenges they face, and it will help them know their rights.”

The meeting will give teen parents “information about what they need. They are so used to hearing no all the time, but they have options and there are organizations that will help them,” Cervantes added.

Patricia Aguilera, 21, and Brittney Sparks, 20, are also members of the committee, but Cervantes and Dela Torre said they would love to have more teen parents or former teen parents as members, to keep the committee going from year to year.

Madonna’s Center

Both young women said they wanted to be on the planning committee, because they owe so much to Valerie E. Aschbacher, the president of Madonna’s Center, and the other volunteers.

“When I look back on everything I have been through, I don’t want teen moms to face the fear; I want to give hope to other teen parents,” Dela Torre said.

“I want to show teen parents that they have potential; that they can do anything,” Cervantes added.

Madonna’s Center and Aschbacher have provided enormous support to both these young women and their children, they noted.

“When I called Madonna’s Center, Valerie asked me about my situation; she pushed me to go back to school and she helped me with diapers. It is thanks to her I have my GED, and thanks to her pushing me so hard I expect to get my medical assistant certification by the end of the year,” Dela Torre said.

Both of Cervantes’ children were premature, and Aschbacher helped her with clothes and other necessities for the babies, she said, adding, “Valerie also helped me with the beauty school fees and helped me pay for my license. If it wasn’t for Madonna’s Center, I would not have had the courage to finish high school with my class, and go to beauty school.”

Lodolini and Aschbacher note that Madonna’s Center is a volunteer-run organization, with a mission to serve teens who are “with child” and without essential support; the organization always needs more volunteers.

“We are trying to get donors to focus on housing needs; we always need laundry detergent and household items. People can go to our website and donate to A Way Inn to help with rental assistance and utilities,” Lodolini said.

“We need a sponsor to print up our posters and we need some donated laptops; we also need more spaces to hold child-friendly meetings,” Aschbacher said.

But the biggest concern is housing, she said, noting that most shelters and housing schemes for the disadvantaged are not available to those under the age of 18.

Aschbacher added, “There are fair housing laws, and there are protected classes, but the laws exclude age as a protected class, so that is the reason why there is no federal help for teen parents.”

Find solutions

What: Teen Parent Housing Solutions Community Meeting

When: 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 3

Where: Pietro’s Pizza, 10300 S.E. Main St., Milwaukie

Details: Teen parents are invited to attend this free meeting; food and child care will be provided. Organizations that provide services to teen parents will be in attendance.

Contact: To contact Madonna’s Center, an all-volunteer organization that serves the youngest, most vulnerable, at-risk families in Clackamas County - teen parents and their children, call 503-653-1595 or visit Send monetary donations to Madonna’s Center, P.O. Box 22368, Milwaukie  97269. Donations of household goods are always appreciated, and drop-off hours are available; call for more information.

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