By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Their tangible gift incentive for attending the workshop on basic car maintenance was a free set of jumper cables.
The intangible benefits acquired by the teen moms at this and other life skills workshops are less obvious, but far more vital.
A group of teenage mothers gathered at Tacheny Autotronics in Mankato this week for one of a series of workshops as part of the South Central Teen Parent Project.
The collaborative multi-county effort is using a state grant earmarked for population groups in need to serve dozens of teen moms, including 19 in the greater Mankato area.
Marcia Highum of MRCI WorkSource, the contracted individual and family services provider for Blue Earth County, said the county in March received a $45,000 grant to assist young women meeting the following criteria:
The mothers must be under 20, be receiving public assistance and be working toward completion of their high school educations.
The workshop series delves into topics such as budgeting, family planning, healthy lifestyle, work-readiness skills and, as the teens learned from auto mechanic Terry Tacheny, Car Care 101 — checking tire pressures, oil, fluids and what engine belts sound like when they’re going bad.
As valuable as the workshops can be, the key component of the teen mom project is its innovative “single point of contact” adult mentoring model.
Previously, Highum said, services for teen parents were provided either by a county social worker who had limited contact with the teen or by an employment services provider.
Under the single point of contact model, greater trust is built between the teen parent and the adult mentor as a result of weekly contacts including home and off-site visits and collaborations on workshop activities.
Highum said the true success of the project is due to its single point of contact mentor, longtime WorkSource employee Peach Ritter.
“It’s like she’s a grandmother figure to them,” Highum said. “She helps them learn in a gentle yet strict manner.”