A group of young mothers who became pregnant as teenagers are sharing their stories in a research project aimed at changing public perceptions. Some of the accounts were shown publicly for the first time today.
Each of the young parents delivers a brief narrative in a digital format that combines video, recorded voice, still and moving images and other sounds.
The point of the collective works – 31 stories in all -- is to remove the stigma and shame surrounding teen pregnancy and promote change in public policy that focuses almost exclusively on prevention.
Yasmin Figueroa is 22 years old and has two children. She first became pregnant at 15. Her digital story tells about her fond family memories as a child and her desire to have her children grow up with the same loving experiences.
" When a teen gets pregnant people think its because they're wild in the streets, or doing things they weren't supposed to. That's not my story."
Each of the project participants is enrolled at the Community Adolescent Resources and Education (CARE) Center of Holyoke. The center, which has operated since 1986, helps teen mothers continue their education. Women in the program not only obtain a GED, but are expected to go on to college.
Holyoke has had the highest teen birth rate in Massachusetts for the past eight years. Holyoke’s teen birth rate is nearly five times the state rate of 17.1 teen births per 1,000 in 2010, the most recent year for statewide statistics.
Aline Gubrium, a professor at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences, said the digital story project will put a human face on policy.
" Digital story telling is a great way to do it. It is short, captures peoples attention. It shows the young women in these stories are people getting by in their lives just like everybody else."
Ten of the digital stories were shown publicly for the first time Wednesday to an audience at the Visitor’s Center at the Heritage State Park in Holyoke. Future showings are planned in Boston and New York City.
Anne Teschner, executive director of the CARE center, said she hoped the story project will help counter the portrayal of teen mothers as a burden on society.
"The hope is that people understand and have a deeper connection with these young women. They have challenges, of course, in their lives, but they have so much potential."
The “Hear Our Stories Holyoke” project is led by researchers at UMass Amherst and supported by a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. The digital stories were produced by WGBY.