Hotel, Women’s Centre partner to empower teen moms

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You cannot allow the negative comments people make to overshadow the positive thoughts you have of yourself.”

Those were the words of Shelly-Ann Weeks, author and founder of the HerFlow Foundation, as she shared scenes from her own journey to self-love and acceptance with teen mothers and mothers-to-be at a recent Regional Empowerment Conference at Sandals South Coast.

The conference, which was organised by Sandals South Coast and the Women’s Centre at Llandilo, brought out teen girls from the Women’s Centres in Montego Bay, Lucea, Savanna-La-Mar, Junction, and Santa Cruz for a day of information and inspiration.

In addition to Weeks’ keynote address, which provided many powerful nuggets for the young women to absorb, the entire event was punctuated with messages of upliftment.

The writing was literally on the wall as these messages streamed across the big screens inside Sandals South Coast’s Grand Ballroom throughout the event, a recent release from Sandals said. The messages were revisited as Angelica Graham, a past student of the Women’s Centre, shared her story of having gone from teen mom to entrepreneur.

There were also the carefully selected performances by members of the Sandals South Coast entertainment team.

Aculia Nembhard’s performance of Mary Mary’s Can’t Give Up Now tugged at heartstrings, while Tyron Barnett’s dance to Andra Day’s Rise Up had the teens mesmerised, the release said.

The event also provided an opportunity for girls to boldly share their own talents with their peers through song, as well as for them to envision the future they desire for themselves and their children through an interactive vision boarding session.

Melissa Anderson, manager for the Women’s Centre in Llandilo, said some of her students are still on cloud nine following the event.

“The girls welcomed the love poured out on them at this event,” she noted. “The pampering, power pep talks, facials, make-up sessions, the many hugs; it was truly amazing.”

She went on to say that events of this nature are great for the girls and a breath of fresh air as it allows them to be away from the centre.

“The energy throughout the day was magical,” said Anderson. “Some of my girls said they were particularly touched by the story of Angelica Graham and believe that if she [Angelica] could accomplish her dreams, despite being a teen mom, so can they.”

“We want these girls to feel loved and know that being a teen mom doesn’t define who they are,” said public relations manager at Sandals South Coast, Rochelle Forbes. “But we also want them to know that their lives don’t end after having a baby and that they are not alone.”

She said it was for this reason that the Regional Empowerment Conference also featured an ‘Explore the Floor’ segment, during which the girls had an opportunity to walk to different stations and learn about the services available. Among the organisations present were the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC), the Pregnancy Resource Centre, Peace Management Initiative, Youth Innovation Centre, Herbal Wonders, and the HerFlow Foundation.

The girls were also engaged in small group sessions hosted by the Montego Bay Community College and Western Hospitality Institute, where they received information on the various programmes and training opportunities available at both institutions.

Make-up artists and aestheticians from the ADO School of Cosmetology and Ettenio were also kept busy as the girls visited their stations for some much-needed pampering.

For one girl, however, who was only weeks away from her due date, ADO School of Cosmetology Director Carlene Miller did more than a free makeover. Miller was so moved by the stories of the girls that she offered this particular girl a scholarship on the spot.

“I was drawn to her meekness and personality, while I was doing her make-up application,” said Miller. “I was questioning her about her pregnancy and schooling when she abruptly admitted that she really loves cosmetology and would love to pursue that after having her baby, at that moment it dawned on me that I could help her to fulfil her dreams.”

While extending gratitude to Sandals South Coast and the Women’s Centre for providing this opportunity, Miller appealed to other organisations to consider teen mothers.

“These young ladies need great mentors and leaders to look out for them by providing opportunities for them to gain valuable skills that can help them become independent women and better mothers for their children; skills that will make them employable so they can serve their communities and their country.”

Forbes also thanked the partner organisations that assisted in making the Regional Empowerment Conference possible, and noted that together, such organisations can help girls realise that they still have the power to shatter the glass ceiling, to break the mold and banish the shadow of disappointment and despair that is often cast on teen mothers.

“Together we can help them realise that there are other options and that they don’t have to become a statistic.”

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