HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – A rowing regatta on the Connecticut River Saturday morning was more than a test of athleticism: It was a testament to the belief that anything is possible with hard work and dedication.
“It’s just beautiful to see how they can work together and it didn’t start out that way,” said Harriet Cuyler, a coach of a rowing team of teen moms out of Pittsfield.
It’s certainly not easy, but a group of about 40 teen moms on the banks of the Connecticut River were proof they could accomplish anything, especially with a support system. The Care Center in Holyoke has been that support system for young mothers for 16 years.
“They’ve all dropped out of school, most are involved in the welfare system, and we’re really committed to developing an education system that’s rich and vibrant and a place where young women can understand how smart and strong and vital they are,” said Anne Teschner, Executive Director of The Care Center and creator of the Young Parents Regatta.
It started as a way for teen moms to get their GEDs, but the lessons these women learned outside the classroom, like while rowing, proved to be just as useful in life.
“I love being around nature because everything is just like, you just forget about everything,” said Luz Ramos, a teen mom from Chicopee.
Rowing is all about teamwork. While in the boats, the young moms work together to win races, but out of the boats, they’ve learned they can rely on each other to get support while raising their children. The mothers said many of the practices are during the school day when the children would be at daycare anyway.
“It’s hard work but the care center helps us a lot with transportation and help with daycare and they’re very, very supportive,” Crystal Morales, a teen mom from Springfield, told 22News.
Over the years, organizations have adopted similar teen mom rowing programs. Saturday, women from Holyoke, Springfield, Pittsfield, and across New England competed in the 15th Annual Young Parents Regatta on the Connecticut River in Holyoke. They practice hard, rowing twice weekly for the past three months.
“They’re more than just a mom. They’re a human being, they’re a woman with interests and able to do a lot of things and just because they’re a mom doesn’t mean that their life shuts down,” said Cuyler.
By bringing young moms together, they realized out there on the water, they’re never alone. They had each other and a large support system of cheering family, friends and babies on the banks of the river, too.
“I’m just happy. I feel emotional and everything. I’m feeling all good,” exclaimed Angelica River, a teen mom from Springfield.
The Care Center has teamed up with Mount Holyoke College to bring the power of rowing to pregnant and parenting teen women. The program was launched with help from the New England Women’s Fund. It is supported by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Frank R. Peters Trust, and the Mifflin Foundation.