Maria’s powerful winds tore through the roof of Proyecto Nacer, the only organization with a holistic program for teenage parents in Puerto Rico and their families, exposing the interior to incessant rain.
Right after Hurricane María, the nonprofit organization founded in 2000 expanded its mission by helping surrounding communities of Bayamón, Naranjito, Toa Alta and Comerío with the distribution of much needed essential supplies it was receiving from national organizations. In the process it located the 73 teenage families that are part of their program; and, also helped them with much needed supplies. Then, it focused on repairing the damage to their facilities as soon as possible so the teenage families could return to their program, which includes schooling and child care among other services.
Since the hurricane, opened the rooms to rain and mold, United for Puerto Rico donated the funds to sterilize the rooms where babies and infants are cared for and provided early learning services while their teenage parents pursue their alternative academic studies in the same building. United also donated funds for a large-scale industrial generator as well as a water tank and purifier. These additions have allowed Proyecto Nacer to continue serving teen families in a safe and appropriate environment as blackouts have been a common occurrence in the wake of the hurricane. The prompt normalization of services for this population supports their development and provides benefits to the greater community. The organization is also better prepared to face a future emergency in which public utilities fail.
The Family Incubator Model
“We work to unite families of teenage dads and moms,” said Anayra Túa-López, CEO of Proyecto Nacer, Inc. and member of the Board of Directors of the Child Welfare League of America and a Commissioner of the Alternative Education Commission of Puerto Rico. Túa explained that the organization provides its services based on the incubator model for families developed by Proyecto Nacer. Just as incubators protect and nurture premature babies, Túa explained that the “the family incubator model aims to break the social disadvantage cycle and increase the potential for social inclusion for families led by teenage parents who are greatly marginalized and ostracized in our society.” It helps form families of teenage moms and dads to support their growth and development as well as that of their children.
A wide-range of services are part of the incubator model including help in designing a life plan to meet the life goals of teenage parents who are part of the program. They have at their disposal an alternative school system where they can obtain a high school diploma and prepare for further education. Another essential service is childcare for newborns up to 5-year-old children, while they pursue their academic curriculum. They have access to workshops on the proper care of a child, including breastfeeding, the development of parenting skills, childbirth classes, and, when needed, interventions with grandparents who often have a hard time accepting that their teenager is about to be a parent. Aside from these services, they have access to an array of specialists, pediatricians, psychologists, and social workers.
In Puerto Rico the demand for these services is great, 1 in 5 live births are from teenage mothers (17.1%), making the island the U.S. jurisdiction with the highest number of teenage pregnancies and births. The organization services teenage mothers and fathers in Bayamón, Toa Baja, Toa Alta, Naranjito, Guaynabo and San Juan with a median age of 15, down from 17 just five years ago. “A teenage parent family may be in the program for an average of three years but continue to participate until they reach their social mobility, family nurturing environments and life-course protective factor’s goals, which may be when they complete a college degree, demonstrate positive co-parenting practices, protect their children’s health and guard them from abuse or neglect, and are financially independent,” said Túa.
Túa, who has a PhD in public health- community health and education and a master’s in public health, explained that parents who have an opportunity to educate themselves, work and care for their children, make for healthier families, which ends up having a beneficial effect on the community. The public health expert explained that when United for Puerto Rico opted to channel aid funds to organizations that have been working for years with vulnerable populations, they were facilitating “a multiplier effect” in helping relief and recovery efforts. In Proyecto Nacer’s case, they will continue incubating healthy teenage families even in the face of the next monster hurricane.