Family Outreach of Horry County, funded by the U.S. Office of Population Affairs’ Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) through Children’s Trust and Fact Forward, works to provide guidance and resources to pregnant or parenting young families. Neil White, who tells the stories of Children’s Trust, spoke to a program provider and participant about the positive impact on their lives.
CONWAY – Veronica Madrid was uncertain about the next steps in her life when she became pregnant at the start of her senior year at Myrtle Beach High School in 2018. Then she met Sherry Coutain.
A family life educator with Family Outreach of Horry County, Coutain connects with expecting and parenting teens in county high schools as part of a program that offers guidance, support and parent information.
“We’re here to assist them in getting the best outcomes of early parenting,” Coutain said. “We want our families to get off to a great start on their journey.”
Madrid’s unease about her situation began to dissolve as she got to know Coutain, who has worked with Family Outreach for 26 years, and understand what the Parents On Point program had to offer: Prenatal, child birth and infant care education; health and family planning services; pregnancy preventive education; parenting classes; education and career planning; and referrals to local resources. Madrid would see Coutain on monthly visits to both her school and her home.
More importantly, Madrid discovered someone she could trust to help her navigate where she still wanted to go in life.
“We made a good bond. She gave me support. She helped me get through high school. She helped me with everything I did,” Madrid said. “She’s like a friend you can talk to – and feel free to talk about anything. She can help you if you’re having problems with your family.”
Opening Doors of Opportunity for Families
Today her healthy 5-month-old son Dylan sits happily in her lap. She proudly speaks of finishing that senior year of high school as she looks forward to attending Horry Georgetown Technical College to pursue an associate degree in the field of nursing. Madrid, who’s now 19, lives with Dylan’s father, Denis Varela, as the two work at being good parents together.
She currently assists Coutain as an interpreter for predominantly Spanish-speaking students on those high school visits with groups of pregnant students, who also receive the benefits of hearing about Madrid’s experiences in the program.
Coutain marvels at the progress Madrid has made in the past 14 months.
“We’re obviously very proud of Veronica. I’ve seen her overcome such significant obstacles,” Coutain said. “She was determined to graduate on time. She was very quiet, and now she’s become more open to opportunities. Her self-esteem is soaring. She has shown maturity beyond her years and grown beyond her years.”
Children’s Trust started the Community Support for Young Parents initiative – funded through the U.S. Office of Population Affairs’ Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) – in partnership with Fact Forward, which advances teen reproductive health in South Carolina. Together the two statewide organizations work with local partners to develop programs and services that support pregnant women and young parents ages 15 to 24. The SC Center for Fathers and Families later joined the partnership to address the fatherhood piece of the equation.
Family Outreach, along with A Father’s Place, provides the direct services that build strong families and happy, healthy home environments for young children. As a family resource center, Family Outreach also maintains a diaper bank that stocks diapers, infant care supplies, baby food, and infant and children’s clothing.
Susan Canterbury, Family Outreach executive director since 2003, is proud of the impact the organization is making given the size and diversity of Horry County. More than 250 families are currently being served by just three full-time staff members, who are dedicated to meeting young parents where they are.
Positive Relationships Break Barriers
Coutain cites the holistic approach that includes not just the parents but also the grandparents and other relatives who play a role in the lives of young children. The goal is to build a strong, supportive network around every child.
“The important part is the relationship that we establish with young families,” Coutain said. “We are able to break some barriers, and we are out there for the long haul.”
Madrid has seen how the organization has worked for her and how hard the program’s practitioners have made such a difference in her life.
“It has changed me,” she said. “They are here for me, and they have helped me get past this.”
Coutain beams as she salutes Madrid’s commitment to building a better life for her family, as evidenced by Dylan reaching those child development milestones. She cites Madrid’s desire to further her education as “a big steppingstone.”
And after seeing Madrid leap over her life hurdle at such a young age, Coutain envisions a bright future ahead.
“This is just a chapter in her book. It’s not the story,” Coutain said. “She’s going to work toward writing the rest of her story, and it’s going to look good.”