This is one sweet 16-year-old.
It s Mom s House of Toledo, which since 1993 has been giving babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers a stable start in life while helping their young mothers to start over.
Hope lives at 2505 Franklin Ave.
"Mom s House played a role in my life that no other entity could," said Emily Roman, a graduate of the program who is now 28, engaged to be married, and living in Warren, Mich., where she works as a development specialist for a tutoring service. "It nurtures your children. It nurtures you. It makes sure you can stay on track to become an asset to the community."
She is one of the success stories of Mom s House of Toledo, one of seven in four states that provide free child care so that low-income, single mothers can finish school. Typically, about half of them are in high school girls as young as 13 or 14.
According to executive director Christina Rodriguez Hicks, "We have celebrated two master s degrees, 15 bachelor s degrees, 13 associate degrees, 59 high school degrees, seven technical degrees, and have assisted over 150 additional young mothers through some portion of their educational experience."
The total includes 35 who have graduated with academic honors. On Friday, Mom s House will celebrate this year s graduations: one GED, three high school degrees, and one college master s.
This program isn t a handout; the free child care comes with strings. Moms have to make a commitment to attend school full time, earn passing grades, volunteer two hours a week at the house, attend and participate in weekly parent meetings, and observe various house rules.
"There were times in my senior year when it seemed overwhelming, but the support outweighed the things they were asking for," said Thasia Awad, a Mom s House graduate. "There was meaning to everything that they asked you to do."
If a young woman doesn t hold up her end of the bargain, she ll be asked to leave the program making room for someone else who is in desperate need of a hand. "We probably have 40 to 50 moms waiting to get into our program right now," Miss Hicks said. Capacity is 30 moms, 30 kids.
"We try to offer stability and build responsibility. They have to learn to be a woman of their word, to be responsible, to give back," she explained.
"Free day care is kind of the bait," admitted Miss Hicks, 35, who herself was born to a 19-year-old single mother.
Many come in scared and adrift.
"We help them become whole as a young woman and a better parent," Miss Hicks said. "They leave as adults. They re beautiful inside and out."
Meanwhile, their kids are developing in a child-care program that s earned a top, three-star rating from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The ratings program, called Step Up to Quality, grades child-care agencies on such factors as staff-to-child ratios, and staff education and familiarity with early learning standards.
Austin Davenport, now 11, started there at about 6 months.
His mother, Ms. Roman, got pregnant at the end of her sophomore year at Central Catholic High School. She delivered her son in January of her junior year, five days shy of her 17th birthday.
"When you re that age and you face pregnancy, you re looking at something that society kind of sneers at you about," Ms. Roman said. While others judged her, the staff at Mom s House "embraced who I was and who my son was... They made me feel like a real person, not just someone they were putting through a system. It was a place to turn for help with anything."
With Mom s House providing free day care, Ms. Roman graduated in 1999 from Central Catholic and went on to Lourdes College on a full scholarship, graduating with a bachelor s degree in education in 2003.
Mrs. Awad said she considered leaving school while she waited for an opening at Mom s House for her and her son, Jacob, now 5. There were times when she had to miss her classes at the University of Toledo because she had no money for day care, she explained.
"I was about six months [pregnant] when I found out about the program, and Jacob was 6 to 8 months old when we got accepted," she said.
Mrs. Awad, now 28 and living in West Toledo, graduated from UT about two years later, in 2005, with a bachelor s degree in social work. Today, she s married to Jacob s father, working at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, and studying for her license in social work.
"I still visit every now and then. I ve told them I was one of those moms who didn t realize how much of a blessing they were to me, and how much they supported me, until it was time to leave."
Raeshon Silver, 17, cleared one educational hurdle as Mom s House cared for her daughter, 1-year-old Surrya, and has started on another. Miss Silver, of North Toledo, graduated from Glass City Academy in January and enrolled the following month in the two-year medical assisting program at Davis College.
"Anything that I need they have for me," Miss Silver said, including diapers, clothing, and food, getting help with her homework, doing her laundry at the house when her washer and dryer were broken, and finding comfort in discussions with the other moms.
"You think you re the only one in a certain situation, but you re not. Everybody is going through the same situation," she observed.
The full support system that Mom s House strives to create includes scholarship programs, counseling, and referrals to community agencies for problems the staff isn t able to address, Miss Hicks said. Among the payoffs: fewer unwanted pregnancies.
"Nationwide, 25 percent of teen moms will have a repeat pregnancy within two years. Our repeat rate is under 3 percent in 16 years," she said. "We attribute that to the entire program overall."
Mom s House operates on a budget of $460,000, money that comes from grants, contributions, fund-raisers, and the United Way. It receives no government funding, and stretches its dollars with the help of donations of food, diapers, cleaning supplies, and other items from the community.
"I ve grown through the program," said Kristin Waters, 25, of South Toledo. She and her 5-year-old daughter, Kiera, are both graduating from Mom s House after four years in the program.
Ms. Waters earned a bachelor s degree from UT in 2007 and a master s degree this spring. She s now interviewing for a job teaching English in Japan, and plans eventually to go to law school.
"I can tell you that without Mom s House, I probably wouldn t be graduating with a master s degree this year," she said, pointing to the difficulty of dealing alone with the twin stresses of motherhood and school,
"It s helpful to get through those hard times when there are other people around you in the same situation, and there are people telling you, You can do this, when you feel as though you can t."
Like loving parents, the staff of 10 at Mom s House celebrates the moms and children s successes, large and small from a young woman who rents her first place or finds a job to the child who takes his first steps.
"These girls are like our kids," Miss Hicks said.