“Mommies can graduate”: Adopt-a-college-student programs help pregnant women attend college

By Gayle Irwin

Obtaining a college degree can be a factor for women considering abortion. Whether fear of losing a scholarship or not being able to afford a child and attend college, or concerns about juggling both school and raising a baby, studies show financial instability and the impact on a woman’s life, such as trying to attend college, are primary reasons American women choose abortion.

Two Wyoming pregnancy centers help alleviate those fears and concerns through their respective Adopt-a-College-Student programs.

Terry Winship, president and CEO of True Care Women’s Resource Center in Casper, learned about such a program at Legacy Pregnancy Center in Sheridan, Wyoming, during a Wyoming Pregnancy Centers Directors semi-annual meeting.

“We share different things we’re doing at our centers,” Winship said. “The Sheridan director mentioned their program, and everyone’s ears perked up. I brought the idea back to our team at True Care, and Cheryl, our resource coordinator, jumped right on it.”

The Casper program

“The goal of the program is to encourage girls to finish college,” explained Cheryl Flores, True Care’s resource coordinator. “It’s harder to go to college if you’re pregnant or have a baby.”

The Adopt-A-College-Student program pairs sponsors, usually donors to the respective center, with pregnant college students, providing them with encouraging notes and care packages. The sponsors also purchase at least one textbook for the student, either through an account at the college bookstore or through a gift card so the student can buy a textbook from Amazon. School enrollment is verified through the college’s admissions office.

Rita Dean, who has volunteered at True Care for more than five years, assists Flores, including helping set up Zoom or in-person events, bringing together the sponsors and students.

“When I first heard about the Adopt-A-College-Student Program, I felt there was a real need for this program in Casper,” Dean said.  “I believe that if we can help young mothers realize that they can get an education, that there are people out there who are willing and want to help them, and that there are people who will walk the walk with them, they have a better chance of trying to get an education and supporting themselves and their children.”

She also maintains connections at Casper College, a community college connected to Wyoming’s lone university, the University of Wyoming, by which students can stay in Casper and work on their bachelor’s degree.

“I have enjoyed meeting and working with the coordinators from Casper College and the University of Wyoming who are also working to help single mothers get an education,” Dean said.

This school year, nine young women in Casper were paired with sponsors, the highest number since the program began at True Care nearly four years ago, Flores said.

A seed grows and single moms are helped

Crystal Merriam heads the Adopt-A-College-Student program at Sheridan’s Legacy Pregnancy Center where she serves as the Advancement/Development director.

“We were doing an ad campaign with the hashtag ‘MommiesCanGraduate’ showing a picture of a mom and child,” Merriam said. “We identify clients who are college students and seek sponsors to adopt them. Online students qualify as well, and different entities can adopt these students.”

That’s also the case at True Care. Whether an individual or a Bible study group, anyone who wants to be a sponsor can do so, Flores said.

“The minimum requirement is a $100 gift card (to help buy textbooks),” she said. “But most go above that; most are very generous. I went to college and I know how hard it is. I’m really impressed at how the sponsors and students bond and how generous our donors are.”

Teresa Isais of Casper is one young mom who has benefited from the program at True Care. Mother of three youngsters, including a baby born in 2019, she is pursuing a degree in the medical field. She has completed classes to become a pharmacy tech and has nearly completed coursework to become an EMT. Isais plans to take the state boards this summer.

“The biggest thing for me, what’s helped me most, was being paired with my sponsor,” she said. “She has checked in on me frequently, and she encourages me. She even sent cards to my kids. I lost my mom at a young age, and so I thank her (the sponsor) tremendously for building me up.”

“That’s what it’s all about – mentoring and encouraging,” Winship said.

Isais has been part of the program for three years, and she believes taking part in Adopt-A-College-Student has also impacted other members of her family.

“My mom was the only one to graduate, and since I’ve been going to school, now my sister is graduating this year and so is my nephew,” the young mother said. “Because I’m doing better, others in my family wanted to do better. Being able to go to school, having such an encouraging sponsor, and the Adopt-A-College-Student Program – it’s all been life-changing!”

Additional outreach and extra encouragement

The center in Sheridan uses its program to conduct additional outreach to students attending Northern Wyoming Community College – Sheridan. For example, $200 is set aside each semester for coffee purchases. Any student who goes to the on-campus coffee shop during finals week will receive a free cup of coffee until the funds run out, Merriam said. The center also receives a graduation list, and if a staff member recognizes a name as having been or is currently a client, flowers are sent to the president of the college in thanks for helping support pregnant women and mothers.

Additionally, Merriam works with Student Collegiate Ministries and the dorms’ residence advisors to reach out to college students. Roses are given out around Valentine’s Day, and lip balm, hot chocolate pouches, screen cleaners, and other personal items are set up in the dorms with a list of services the pregnancy center offers and how to contact Legacy should the need arise.

“We have a strong connection with the college,” Merriam said. “We also have a sweet, special relationship with the Collegiate Ministries group. It’s all awareness-building – we want college women to know Legacy is a safe, comfortable place if they ever need us.”

Pregnant women and young mothers in need encouragement and support do not always find it with family members and friends. Therefore, the pregnancy center can be that source when a pregnant woman or young mother may not see how she can be a mom and attend college, Winship said.

“Students can use that extra layer of support to accomplish their dreams,” she said. “Mommies can get their degree.”

Editor’s note. This appeared at Pregnancy Help News and is reposted with permission.