A place of unconditional love and support
By Abigail Thorpe
Over three years ago, Sheree DiBiase was invited to meet two ladies from Spokane who were part of a group called YoungLives, which is a nondenominational community ministry that provides a support group and network for young teenage moms. After months of meeting and considering the need for a similar group in Coeur d’Alene, four women—Becky Orchard, Tami Martinez, Shannon Knight and Sheree DiBiase—started Coeur d’Alene YoungLives under the branch of Young Life.
At first they didn’t think there would be many teenage moms, but after two years their number grew from three mothers and their children to 13. “The whole goal was to keep them connected and provide a support group,” explains DiBiase.
Oftentimes when teenage moms decide to keep their baby, they are ostracized from friends and even family. They can be incredibly disconnected, and often face homelessness and financial stress in addition to trying to finish school, learn how to be a mother and grow up all at the same time. And many of the nonprofits and organizations available for the homeless aren’t prepared for or open to accepting a young pregnant girl.
That’s where YoungLives steps in to provide mentorship, a support network and a community the girls can lean on and grow together with. “That’s why we’re doing it, to try and support them no matter where they’re at,” says DiBiase. “There’s no judgment at all. Our whole thing is encouragement, support, having them have a safe place to come to get things they need.”
And the girls create their own network and oftentimes find more friendships than they ever expected to have with other mothers, inviting others into the group who need support. “They end up making a network with each other, they all start talking to each other, and they find other moms who are pregnant. It’s so organically driven,” adds DiBiase.
YoungLives meets every second Thursday of the month during the school year to have dinner together, play games and connect with one another, although currently group meetings have been replaced with one-on-ones due to COVID. In normal months, a long, rectangular table is set up that is reminiscent of a family table, and the girls, their babies and the leaders all enjoy dinner together before free childcare is provided and the girls are allowed to be just that for an hour or two: a kid. They play games, have educational events, do pamper nights and create art together.
Alongside the monthly meetings, the mothers are encouraged to find support from a mentor they feel comfortable with. “We never push them to get into a relationship; we open the door so they meet different people, and they can see who they connect with. Sometimes they verbalize it, other times it’s super organic. It’s been really fun to watch how these relationships start and grow,” says DiBiase.
In the summer, the group typically meets once or twice a month for fun outdoor activities at a park or for a pool party, and every year a summer camp is held in Oregon. They pile into a van with their babies and set out for some time together filled with fun, childcare and community.
In addition to mentorship and the emotional connections YoungLives supports, it also helps with the practical things. Diapers, wipes and clothes are collected for the girls and distributed every meeting to whomever is in need. “It’s always amazing to see the outpouring,” smiles DiBiase.
She’s had people arrive at her work who know about the program, and have no idea why, but feel led to donate $100. Coats, baby clothes and much more have arrived in her hands from community members who knew she could find someone who needed it—and she always does.
“We’ve had so much outpouring of different groups helping us as [the girls] decide the next steps of their lives,” she explains. Many of the girls drop out of traditional high school, and for those who don’t end up at an alternative school, YoungLives has a connection at North Idaho College to help them earn their GED. There are even scholarships available at NIC.
They receive community help in whatever areas they can. A midwife and chiropractor volunteer their time to provide education or help during occasional meetings, and even Panhandle Health is a resource for mothers in need.
“I felt strongly we needed to encompass women more and not have them feel so separate and alone,” says DiBiase. “I really do love it, and I’m just so thankful that we can help them. To see the goodness of people, it’s almost mesmerizing sometimes.”
Volunteers who’d like to get involved or donate, or young mothers who are interested in learning more about YoungLives, can always private message the group on their Facebook page North Idaho YoungLives, or can send for information through Young Life of North Idaho.