With all of the crucial issues facing our region and state, we hope that a recently-completed collaboration can serve as model for other organizations to work together in the best interest of the community.

A successful and much-needed program that supports teen parents required a new home, after the board of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) decided to re-focus the organization’s mission exclusively on domestic violence. With the support of Rotary Charities and the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, the program — now known as the Teen Parent Program — is being administrated by Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) at Traverse City High School.

In order to effectively keep the program running for the teen girls who depend on it, the three nonprofit organizations joined our local public school system to work together to ensure not only program stability but also three years of funding. Now, thanks to these collaborative efforts, nearly 80 girls are involved, staying in school, receiving guidance and support and benefiting from the program that began in our community in the 1970s.

Others who want to learn from this partnership should recognize that leaders put shared mission first in determining how to proceed. All agreed that we need to help ensure that the Traverse City area not mirror the national statistics including: only 38 percent of teen girls who have a child before 18 get a high school diploma by the age of 22 and the fact that children born to mothers younger than 18 score significantly worse on measures of school readiness including math and reading tests. We all understood that this community must do better and, to accomplish that, the program must survive and thrive.

The partners in this effort want to send a clear message to the community: Becoming a young mother — regardless of your background — is a very difficult thing to do. It’s not easy to navigate high school, let alone life beyond the classroom. We must help them in their journey to become more successful as parents and as residents. Simply put, keeping these young people in school helps make them better parents. Providing them with a mentor to guide them can have a powerfully positive impact on a young person’s life.

We have seen other examples of nonprofit collaboration in our community before, such as when Child and Family Services merged with Third Level Crisis Intervention Center. But to continue this trend, it will take collective patience and focus. Mission-driven organizations must keep in mind that they cannot do everything by themselves. They must sit together and determine ways to solve problems with new approaches.

Now that program has a new home, it will take the community’s collective effort to sustain it beyond three years.

About the authors: Lance Morgan is the principal of Traverse City High School. Juliette Schultz is executive director of the Women’s Resource Center for the Grand Traverse Area.

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