Kornerstone helping Barry County teen parents

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Organization offers invaluable education, support

Kornerstone Inc., a non-profit, community-driven organization based in Shell Knob, has been providing services to expectant teen mothers in Barry County since 2006.

Its staff of three, which include a director and two advocates and birth doulas, stay busy serving teen parents needing guidance and support with services like prenatal and breastfeeding education, doula services, transportation to appointments, infant care, nutrition, mentoring, and providing supplies like diapers, food and clothing, both before and after the birth of their babies.

"We serve pregnant and expectant teens," said Marlene Whitham, Kornerstone executive director, who writes grants and oversees operations. "We collaborate with the public schools, Barry County Public Health and also the local doctors at Cox Monett and Mercy. Our purpose is to advocate for these young ladies and provide services from transportation to prenatal care, doula services, advocacy support and personal visits that include education about a healthy pregnancy.

"We've served over 200 pregnant teenagers since 2006. Our goal is to have the teens deliver a healthy, normal-birth-weight baby. We are funded by Children's Trust Fund, so we provide a lot of education such as breastfeeding, labor and delivery, postpartum care and infant massage."

Fathers are included every step of the way, too.

"We have a fatherhood initiative and our goal is to help them get established as a family unit," Whitham said.

Expectant fathers can take the Doctor Dad class, which teaches them what to do when their child is sick or injured, how to feed and swaddle their child, keep them safe and understand their temperament.

"We're helping them do things that the parents used to do, because there's a huge need for it in Barry County," Whitham said.

"We average about 20-25 teen moms and around 18-22 dads," said Lisa Miller, Kornerstone advocate and certified birth doula, who was hired in 2006 to help Whitham develop the Teen Parent program. "They either live in Barry County or attend a school which serves Barry County residents.

"My belief is that if we prevent one abortion, provide information and services that keep one child, teen or family safe, then we are successful. Kornerstone's program provides support for young people at a time when their parents are often very angry with them, their peers are judging them and society is shaking its head at them."

Jaynee Langley, Kornerstone advocate and certified birth doula, breastfeeding counselor and infant massage educator, has been involved with the organization since 2000, first as a teacher and on-site director for the early childhood education program, and later as a certified family advocate before becoming a teen advocate.

"My ultimate goal is to provide these young people with the support that they need before and after birth so that abortion is not the first choice," Langley said. "One of our most important jobs is to prepare these young people for the process of birth. Information and knowing what to expect helps take some of the fear away. We want these young people to have the right information so they can make educated decisions for themselves and their unborn baby."

One of the many services Langley provides as a doula is help with breathing and calming techniques during labor.

"As a doula, we attend labor and birth to help support her and her partner," she said. "We are trained in ways to possibly help the birth process from stalling out, [like]movement and body positioning. Doula in Greek means a servant of women."

"Our role as a doula is to provide support for the laboring mother and assisting her with comfort measures and techniques," Miller said.

After the baby is born, services do not stop, but continue with education and support.

"After the birth of baby, our role as advocates continues for at least six months," Miller said. "Following delivery, we remain with the family for several hours. We are also available to aid with breastfeeding, as there is often a learning process that needs to take place for both mom and baby."

Langley said doula services play an important role in the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

"After mom leaves the hospital, we continue to do home visits, a postpartum check, and provide parent education and child development information," she said.

Langley also teaches infant massage, explaining the importance of bonding through touch, and teaches parents how to understand the cries a baby uses to communicate.

Miller stressed that relationships are as important as the services provided.

"Often times, we are their confidant and counselor, a trusted adult who listens without judgment," Miller said. "I have laughed with them, cried with them, experienced such joy as new life enters the world, and such heartache when a little one doesn't survive."

"Because we have spent so much time with these young ladies, they have bonded with us and trust us," Langley said. "Often, the relationships last beyond the guidelines of the six months post-birth. I find myself bonding so closely with many of these young women that the friendship goes on for years, and I feel very blessed to have had this experience with them."

Just how successful is the Teen Mom program?

The organization has tangible data to measure that, but Miller has a much simpler way -- by the evidence she sees in clients' lives and how clients continually inspire her.

"A healthy, full-term baby; a mom who stopped using while pregnant and remained clean; a 15-year-old whose dad insists she have an abortion, but she doesn't want to and because she is in our program, she is able to stand up to her dad; the couple who gets married; the young parent who has found new meaning to their life because of their child and is determined to provide a better life than they have had -- I have watched with awe the amazing strength of a single mom or dad as they work, go to school, and parent their child," Miller said. "These young people have taught me so much about perseverance, hard work, love, dedication, and the human spirit."

"The program has helped me tremendously by taking some of the pressure off being a parent and the uncertainty," said Veronica, a teen parent who received services and whose last name has been redacted to protect privacy. "Through the program, I was able to receive a free baby bed that my baby might not of had otherwise. My advocate provided me with a new car seat just as my son outgrew the one he was in.

"I've also received diapers, wipes and clothing. I've received important information that I've been able to share with friends and family that also helped them. The program has helped me a lot."

Langley and Miller serve up to 10 families per year through grants, community support and fundraisers, like the annual 5K run in Cassville.

"We currently are only funded for part-time assistance, but our services may last for more than a year with each family, so we do a lot of volunteer time," Miller said. "It is a very physical and emotional job. Most of our funding comes from grants and this is a struggle each year."

Due to the funding pinch, Langley said Kornerstone is not available to provide advocacy services to the general public, which could benefit other expectant parents, too. However, Just for Dads, a class which will be offered in October, is open to the public.

"In the future, we hope to be able to offer our services to first-time parents that could benefit from our program," Langley said.

For more information on the Teen Mom program, people may call Kornerstone at 417-858-2887.

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