In a classroom in Tucson, young mothers all gathered together, taking a moment to relax while their babies played on the floor with employees from Teen Outreach Pregnancy Services.
The evening’s activities started with some questions, “How do you handle a stressful situation? What helps relieve stress for you especially when your baby is fussy?” asked Camille Cooke, health educator and case manager at Teen Outreach Pregnancy Services (TOPS). It took less than a minute for one of the teen moms to speak up and share with the small group her answer to the question.
TOPS, a non-profit organization, offers a variety of services for pregnant teens or moms. One of the services offered is support groups every Monday. The support group is held at 3024 E. Fort Lowell from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. The small group context allows for women, and occasionally a husband or boyfriend, to share with the group and receive input from other moms or employees at TOPS.
For 22-year-old Lacey Burch, support groups allow her to get out of the house for an hour and relax, as TOPS employees watch her baby boy during the discussions. Burch is often joined by her boyfriend, Manny Alcantar.
“We both like it as a couple because we can ask things here that may be somewhat awkward, but we still get good peer advice,” said Burch. “The people here at the center are also informative and not judgmental which is comforting and helpful.”
Burch and Alcantar have a baby boy named Manny who is six months old. Alcantar works many hours at Taco Bell and Burch takes care of Manny, but has future aspirations of attending school to study business management. Currently, all three of them live with Burch’s mom.
Both have been coming to TOPS for almost a year and say that one of the most beneficial things they have received from the center is advice on how to parent well.
“I think the male feedback given to Manny and encouragement helps him and they also help us with our parenting skills,” said Burch. “What’s been the most helpful lately is even ideas on how we can interact with little Manny more. Manny and him do bonding activities such as reading books or building something.”
Cooke, who has been working at TOPS since 2009, said this is a place where teen moms can come and get all the support and care they need. From education on a healthy pregnancy, to childbirth, parenting classes and more, TOPS offers step-by-step help. Not only teen moms benefit, as TOPS offer a program for teen dads, specifically in the area of parenting.
“We offer a personalized care,” said Cooke. “We also hold special events where they can all meet each other.”
Personalized care are the two words that 20-year-old Isabella Shalvay can directly relate with not only TOPS, but with Cooke in particular.
“You can call and text her at almost anytime and she’ll respond to help you,” said Shalvay, who also says the support groups have been very helpful. “If I’m stressed with all the kids they help a lot with that too.”
TOPS was founded in 2000 and is located in areas throughout Arizona. About a month ago, TOPS came out with a new website that offers more information and is easier to navigate.
To learn more about TOPS, visit the website at www.teenoutreachaz.org.