Teen Mothers Find Refuge In Arlington

By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 8, 2008

Madeline Glenn was a 17-year-old senior at St. John's College High School, a private Catholic school in the District, when she got pregnant.

Glenn knew she wanted to keep her baby -- neither abortion nor adoption was an acceptable option to her -- but she also wasn't ready to give up on the plans she had for herself, like someday going to college. When she turned 18, though, her parents told her it was time to take responsibility for her choices in life. She had to leave home and fend for herself and her coming child.

Enter Elizabeth House, an Arlington residential program for homeless adolescent mothers and their children. At five months pregnant, Glenn moved into a subsidized Arlington apartment run by the nonprofit group, which is operated by Borromeo Housing Inc., founded 20 years ago by a group of parishioners from St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church.

Now Glenn is studying for an associate's degree in marketing at Northern Virginia Community College to become an event planner. She hopes one day to open her own event-planning business. She and her now 1-year-old daughter, Marie Claire, still live in the two-bedroom apartment provided by Elizabeth House, along with another young mother and her 2-year-old daughter.

"It's a great program," said Glenn, who has been in the program since the end of 2006 and plans to stay through 2009. "It gives a young woman an opportunity to be an individual, raise her child, and go to school. You have to be looking to better yourself, though. They want to see you succeed."

Arlington County recently awarded Borromeo Housing a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant to buy a house in South Arlington that would double the number of young women and children housed. At present, the group can accommodate four mothers and their children in a pair of rented two-bedroom apartments.

"By the end of the year, we're going to be able to house four more families and acquire our first property, all in the same fiscal year," said Joy Myers, executive director of Borromeo Housing. "That's huge growth for us. It's been a long time coming, though."

The four-bedroom house off Columbia Pike, which will be ready for occupancy in September, was bought with the help of various funding sources. The grant from the county was used as part of the down payment, supplemented by $30,000 in private donations. The rest was financed through a traditional mortgage.

"They leveraged the public money very efficiently," said Jane Eboch, community development coordinator in Arlington's Department of Community Planning and Housing Development.

She said that before Arlington's County Board awarded the competitive grant, it considered the group's track record, its ability to manage the program and the fact that it assisted an underserved population. Eboch said Borromeo first approached county officials two years ago with the idea of buying a property. The county advised the group to come back when it had found a suitable Arlington property, which it did last year.

"Their program really moves the young women to self-sufficiency," Eboch said. "The County Board took into account the excellent work they've done."

The Elizabeth House program is simple: It's for homeless adolescent girls from 16 to 20 who have decided to keep their babies -- and who want to set personal goals, particularly educational ambitions. The group usually takes in young women during their second trimesters, after they have decided to become parents. They can stay in the program two to three years.

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