When Alli Letendre became pregnant at 15 years old in 2014, she said it was intimidating to attend a parenting class. Luckily, she found a safe environment thanks to Tucson’s Teen Outreach Pregnancy Services, and was able to learn the ins and outs of motherhood alongside other young women without feeling isolated and alone.
“The curriculum was taught to a level that we would understand,” she said. “It was an inspiring atmosphere. They wanted the best for you.”
Now 20, Letendre said she hopes other young expectant mothers will receive the same level of caring and guidance she did thanks to a recently announced partnership between TOPS and Arizona Youth Partnership aimed at providing expanded health services and life advice to teens across the state.
A Tucson-based nonprofit, AZYP was established in 1990, and will integrate the outreach pregnancy services Jan. 1. According to its website, the organization was founded by Pima County residents interested in providing rural communities with the “services available in the Tucson Metro area,” and has since expanded its mission to serve rural communities across Arizona by working to fight poverty and build healthy, self-sufficient youth and families through evidence-based prevention programs and community involvement.
AZYP Executive Director Lori Malangone believes the collaboration between the two nonprofits will be to the benefit of the younger generation of Arizonans statewide.
“We’re essentially going through a merger that we believe is going to help us serve more people in Marana and serve more people across the state,” Malangone said.
The number of teen pregnancies in Arizona has dropped from nearly 15,000 in 2006 to 6,724 in 2016, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. But even with the good news of fewer teen pregnancies, the teens who still get pregnant need help.
“The one thing that made us do this is that the rate of teen pregnancy has drastically decreased,” said TOPS CEO Laura Pedersen. “So, there may be a myth that people don’t need our services these days, and we’re now more well-rounded to deal with teen parents in our state.”
The parenting classes and offerings Pedersen’s team pioneered paid dividends to countless teen mothers, like Letendre, who said she’s hopeful that the AZYP/TOPS merger will allow young women outside of the Tucson metroplex to receive the same advice and counseling that helped her.
“There are a lot of teens who get pregnant,” Letendre said. “There aren’t always good places for them to go to, where they might feel safe, or get all the information they need to make healthy choices, as far as parenting. It helps after too. It helps to have a really healthy family life with your child, and the other parent.”
Pedersen believes the merger will allow both organizations to focus on the aspects of teen health they know best, and reiterated that TOPS, which was founded in 2000, isn’t going away, but will instead by strengthened by the partnership. For Pedersen, the looming merger serves as a way for TOPS to reach a wider audience, making sure that women like Letendre aren’t left by the wayside.
“The services are going to continue, there’s still a need for our services, we’re just going to work smarter, not harder,” she said.