It’s a little-known secret that there exists a pernicious cycle of teen mothers whose children often also become pregnant as teenagers. But that fact wasn’t known to Ali Woodard, an adopted child whose birth mother was a teenager. Ali grew up as many southern California kids did, which made it all the more difficult when she became pregnant at age 16.
Embarrassed and ashamed, Ali told no one about her plight and “handled it” the only way she could imagine with the help of Planned Parenthood. With that behind her, Ali continued her life, getting a degree from Cal State Long Beach and embarking on a successful career as the executive assistant to top business executives running some of California’s most successful companies.
Ali’s experience with teen pregnancy might not have greatly affected her life if she hadn’t been involved at Mariners Church in Irvine. There she mentored high school girls which inevitably lead to the topic of pregnancy, bringing back clearly the experience she had gone through. These young girls expressed their view that there was no choice to teen pregnancy other than abortion.
Ali knew that they needed support, information, and choices and she wondered what she could do.
Then came the service at Mariners Church on ways to volunteer in our community. Ali listened to the service and the call to get involved, including the request to mentor pregnant and parenting teens. When she came forward, she was told no program like that existed at the church, but also was asked if she would start one. Hesitant, but excited for the opportunity, she first established partnerships with pregnancy centers and shelters for pregnant women, and mobilized volunteers to provide ancillary services such as baby showers and craft nights.
Seeing no other support in the community for these teens, Ali began the Club Mom program to provide parenting and life skills classes. This program ultimately was the beginning of Fristers, a nonprofit dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty and abuse within the teen parent population by providing education, access to resources, role models and support.
Today, some 15 years from that Club Mom experience, Fristers has helped over 900 teen mothers and 1,000 children. Moms are graduating high school, enrolling in college and vocational training programs, getting their driver’s license, securing employment, and becoming responsible, caring parents to their children.
And children are receiving early intervention services that are improving their developmental, social, and educational gains. Recently Fristers expanded programming to include teen fathers and teen parent couples, strengthening the entire family. Now alumni of the program (graduates complete 3 or more years in the program and must graduate high school) are helping as volunteers and donors.
And Fristers is looking to launch its programs and services into new communities throughout Orange County.
As for Ali Woodard, she believes that running Fristers is what she was born to do, her calling. She took her experience and a desire to help others and created an organization helping hundreds get the help and support unavailable to her as a teen.
Her reward is experiencing daily the joy that comes from being able to provide this help and knowing that these teen parent families are growing up better than they would have without the support of Fristers.