Within the past year, a lot has happened, so much so that we may find it challenging to remember the wonderful ways communities and families are lifting themselves up to soar at their fullest potential, with a little help from Sixpence.
Fremont provides a terrific example of how Sixpence and families can thrive, even when times are tough. Today’s story, thanks to Lauren Stoklasa, Fremont Sixpence program coordinator, who originally shared it, has not only a happy ending, but a promising future.
Sixpence is a Nebraska Children and Families Foundation Early Childhood initiative whose roots are traced back to 2006. After public-private sectors worked together to create the Sixpence Early Learning Fund, this endowment has been helping children thrive ever since.
But let’s not forget Lauren, whose story of a young mother embodies a real-life example of what Sixpence and a strong young woman can accomplish.
Four years ago, a frightened, pregnant 16-year-old walked through Fremont Sixpence’s doors. Lauren said that in addition to being scared, the young woman was disconnected from her relatives.
“The expecting mother had no family, except for her mother, who was wanting her to give the child up for adoption,” said Lauren.
Lauren said that the expectant young woman felt alone and lost, as she wasn’t sure where to turn or which community supports and services were available to her.
When Lauren and her team began working with the soon-to-mother, they started by asking her a question.
“We started working with this mother immediately and posed the question to her on what she WANTS, not her mother, not her friends, but her,” said Lauren.
“She instantly responded [that] she wants to raise this child and be the best mother she can be, but was afraid she would fail.”
Lauren said that for the duration of the young woman’s pregnancy, Fremont Sixpence ensured she was armed with knowledge. From education on prenatal child development to infant care best practices, Fremont Sixpence worked with this young woman to equip her with strategies for her pregnancy and beyond.
Lauren said that Fremont Sixpence believes in taking a holistic approach to support.
“Fremont Sixpence truly believes it takes a village to raise a child; therefore, [we] started connecting her to numerous community services such as Lutheran Family Services, local food pantries, Uniquely Yours, and The Bridge. Through all of these supports, Fremont Sixpence felt this mother would be better equipped to take on the most challenging role of her life, motherhood,” said Lauren.
Despite this young woman’s resolve to educate herself and prepare for motherhood, the road was far from smooth. During this crucial time, the young woman expressed some concerns about her mental health. She knew she was capable and wanted to seek professional assistance, but her mother would not permit her daughter to use her insurance for mental health services.
Lauren said that because the young mom was unemployed, she could not cover counseling expenses. Once again, thanks to this young woman’s willingness to be vulnerable, she and Sixpence stepped up to the plate. Fremont Sixpence covered her counseling sessions through a partnership with Lutheran Family Services.
Lauren said the young woman’s Sixpence coordinator even attended the first three sessions with her, until she felt at ease enough to pursue counseling appointments on her own.
“For the first time, this mom discussed how she was beginning to feel heard and validated,” said Lauren.
In fall 2016, the young woman gave birth to a healthy little girl. Although the road appeared smoother, this new mother still had challenges ahead. Nonetheless, she continued to attend Fremont Public Schools, even finding a job while a friend cared for her child.
As the year unfolded, Lauren said that the young mother was thriving, until she faced another difficulty.
“This new family of two was soaring in success,” said Lauren. “Mom was close to graduating and her child was 11 months old, about to take her first steps, when their world was turned upside down.”
One night when she was at work, the young mother received the phone call that every parent dreads. Her boyfriend, who was watching her child, called in a panic because her baby wasn’t breathing.
After the mother called 9-1-1 and ran to the hospital, she was met with more frightening news. Her child, who had sustained a skull fracture and Shaken Baby Syndrome, would be flown to Omaha and not expected to survive.
Luckily, that wasn’t the case. After several surgeries and staying as a patient at Children’s Hospital for over a month, the child was transferred to Madonna’s Rehabilitation Center. Despite a somewhat hopeful outcome, the medical professionals were not optimistic and had broken more bad news to the mother.
“The doctors and staff vocalized to the young mother that her child would never walk or speak again,” said Lauren.
Meanwhile, throughout this difficult time, the mother expressed that she had no one to support her. The Sixpence coordinator responded by continually visiting the young woman and child weekly in Omaha and then Lincoln.
Several months of rehabilitation later, the child went home with her mother, only for them to be confronted by another setback. When the young woman returned home to her mom, her mother refused to allow her daughter and grandchild to move home. Now homeless, with a child in an infirmed state, the Department of Health and Human Services had to take the little girl from the mother until she could find housing.
Lauren said that the little girl was in a fragile state. “This child was unable to eat, walk or speak, and would need special equipment in the home in order to function,” she said.
Lauren said that Fremont Sixpence put the mother in touch with a local shelter to provide temporary housing relief during her court hearing. Throughout this time, the mother remained committed to her daughter, participating in weekly visits at the Fremont Sixpence engagement center. Lauren said that the mother felt at ease with her daughter at the Sixpence center.
“The mother often stated she felt at peace and safe in the Fremont Sixpence engagement center with her daughter,” said Lauren.
While months of court proceedings passed, Fremont Sixpence advocated for the young woman to participate in the Bridge to Independence program, which allowed her to receive a monthly stipend and weekly goal guidance that helped her eventually obtain her own housing!
The woman spent the next few months tirelessly working to show that she was, in fact, capable and ready to support her child. Finally, because of her efforts, she and her child were reunited again in a place they could call their own.
The whole time, throughout this strong young mother’s dedication, Fremont Sixpence continued to work with her. This time, she and the program focused on her educational pursuits and finding supports to address her child’s delays.
Early Development Network joined in the support system in providing home visitations, truly adhering to Fremont Sixpence’s “it takes a village” approach.
The young mother expressed reservations about a team of professionals in her home, for fear she would be judged. To support her, similar to attending her initial therapy sessions, the Fremont Sixpence coordinator was present for the woman and her daughter’s home visitations until she grew more comfortable.
Meanwhile, as she and her child returned on the path to recovery, the young woman continued to attend school. She struggled again, this time with math, which was the only subject she found challenging. To boot, due to her child’s sustained medical condition, the young woman was unable to find suitable childcare. This whole time, she was resigned to completing online courses.
Lauren said that despite these hurdles, the young woman pushed through her assignments with some help from the Sixpence coordinator.
“At the end of every home visit, the Sixpence coordinator and mother would spend 15 minutes looking over homework assignments and offering guidance and strategies,” said Lauren.
Finally, the young woman’s efforts paid off dividends.
“After eight months of extensive work on the mother’s end, the Sixpence home visitor received a graduation announcement invitation to attend as this young mother was officially graduating high school and was accepted to the University of Nebraska-Omaha!” said Lauren.
On the day of her graduation, the mother received an unexpected gift. Her daughter achieved the impossible. She opened her mouth and said her first word: “Mama.”
The mother and her little girl have continued to make the impossible possible. Her daughter now says up to ten words and is walking across the floor.
“Fremont Sixpence is convinced that this mother’s willingness to thrive and succeed is the reason this child is flourishing and beating all the odds!” said Lauren.
Since the child exited the Sixpence program, Lauren said the family is now living in Omaha and doing wonderfully.
“The young mother is a full-time student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and working part time. The child is enrolled in preschool in Omaha and attending a childcare center part time,” said Lauren.
Lauren added that the young mom and her child live in a duplex and attend weekly therapy sessions to address the child’s developmental goals.
When the coordinator and mother last spoke, before she signed off from the conversation, the mother said, “I would not be living this wonderful life with my daughter if it was not for the Sixpence program. That program believed in me when no one else did and helped guide me towards success. There is never going to be enough thank yous that I can give you for saving my daughter and me.”