Aricia LaFrance describes the beginning of Arvada, Colorado's Angel Foundation in very personal terms: "I was stressed out, and my kids were making me crazy." LaFrance chose to splurge and spend a day at a spa, getting away from it all. But while she was there, she did some thinking. "I started wondering about teen moms, single moms, moms with 12 kids who couldn't ever get away," said LaFrance, a former single mother herself. After thinking about other mothers who don't have the option of just getting away for a while, LaFrance started the Angel Foundation, which she describes as "a mommy burnout prevention program."
LaFrance's initial goal of treating moms to a weekend-long retreat soon changed to half-day "mini retreats" which feature a variety of speakers, who may address topics such as journaling, yoga, and T'ai Chi. The goal of the sessions is to reach mothers who may be in danger of abusing their children - LaFrance identifies participants as suffering from a lack of parenting skills (she acknowledges, "We all lack parenting skills"), high unmanageable stress, and self esteem issues (again, something LaFrance believes most women deal with). Participants either pay $35, which covers the seminar, meals and child care, or volunteer in order to cover the cost of participation.
In August of last year, LaFrance was contacted by local probation officer Valerie Arguello-Perez about working with some of teenaged mothers on her caseload. LaFrance, a former psychotherapist, started a program for the girls which address topics such as avoiding and leaving abusive relationships, strengthening parenting skills and developing and meeting life goals. Many of the girls are on probation for what LaFrance describes as "accomplice stuff" such as allowing boyfriends to deal drugs from their apartments, or driving a car during a robbery.
"These young women on probation were falling through the cracks," says Arguello-Perez, who works specifically with adolescent offenders. She called LaFrance in after seeing an article about her work and realizing that ten out of 26 of the girls on her caseload were pregnant or had children. "I believe in prevention in the womb," she explains. "We needed to figure out what to do so I wouldn't be seeing their kids coming through my office in another 16 years."
Program participant Kim Laybourne, 17, has found the support from the Angel Foundation helpful. Laybourne gave birth to her daughter, Alecyia Garnett, three months ago, and became involved with the program while pregnant. "It's relieved some stress," she says. "I'm not alone. It's nice to get to know other teen moms who are going through what you're going through." Layborne mentions hearing speakers talk about issues such as contraception and positive discipline, and found a luncheon with a local newscaster particularly inspiring.
Arguello-Perez has noted reluctance in many of her clients prior to getting involved with the Angel Foundation. "Probation has typically not done nice things for kids, so it's hard to get them involved at first," she explains. She found, however, that once the girls got involved, the combination of parenting education, mentoring and inspirational incentives led even some of the most reticent participants to become excited.
One of LaFrance's goals is to provide the young women involved in the Angel Foundation with positive single parent role models. "It's ridiculous," she says. "If you're married and staying at home with your kids, you're a saint. If you're single and staying at home with your kids, you're just lazy."
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