Faces in the Valley: Holly Smith

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Holly Smith recalls being a teen mom on the verge of struggling to make ends meet.

“I was 19 and left my abusive husband with my two-month old,” Smith recalled. “I had just graduated high school and wanted to attend college but knew I’d have to do so while raising a child.”

Smith’s dilemma is one that she says many teen mothers still experience today. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the percentage of teen moms is steadily dropping, a total of 194,377 babies were born to women aged 15–19 in 2017 for a birth rate of 18.8 per 1,000 women in this age group.

Despite the decline, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is substantially higher than in other western industrialized nations, according to the CDC.

For help in raising her son, Smith turned to her parents for help.

“My parents let me stay at home with them and attend college with the stipulation that I earn all As and Bs,” Smith recalls. “I wouldn’t have to work and I’d just raise him which I was thankful for. My parents giving me a safe place to live in helped me become so successful.”

25 years later, Smith is a teacher at Nikki Rowe High School in McAllen and hopes to help other teen moms in the area who struggled like she did all those years ago.

Smith is a volunteer at Young Life, a faith-based program that introduces adolescents to Jesus Christ and his teachings. As part of her volunteer work, Smith worked at a section called Young Lives which helps teen moms.

“God has given me a special love for kids. This past summer I attended a camp in San Antonio with 230 other mommas and a group of them were from a foster home for teen moms,” Smith recalled. “There were several girls there who were about to turn 18 and have to move out of the home with their babies who were so fearful of their future.”

Seeing these stories inspired Smith to take action and create a program, Remember Beloved Ministries, in the Rio Grande Valley dedicated to helping teen moms lead successful adult lives.

“Working with Young Lives, I got to mentor girls and spend time with them which is great but I wanted to take time to find a few girls and do everything I could do to help them,” Smith said. “I talked to friends and pastors and we prayed about it and it started to come together, I wanted to buy a piece of property with cottages and each cottage would house a teen mom and her child. I already talked to counselors who said they’d offer counseling services for free and have friends who will do cooking classes and financial literacy classes. We can provide mentoring, child care, and they’d learn to take care of animals and things like that depending on what they enjoy to teach them about responsibility.”

Remember Beloved Ministries is in its beginning stages and so far has created a board of directors and purchased a piece of property in La Feria that Smith says she hopes will house four teen moms in the future.

“I’m spending my summer writing grants to get this ball rolling,” Smith said. “The property is 37 acres of land and it’s the most peaceful place I’ve ever been to in my life. It’s so beautiful, I feel safe here.”

Smith knows the teen moms will need this feeling of security, especially under her care.

“I had to hide from my ex after my divorce and had to have his parental rights terminated and I know these girls are going through something similar,” Smith said. “It’s hard to work with teen moms. It’s a lot to get them to trust you and it’s understandable. Most of them have been abused or hurt in some way so you have to dedicate time to them and know it’s what you want to do.”

Smith said there’s no program like Remember Beloved Ministries in the Valley.

“One of the girls I mentor dropped out of her class at the age of 16 after having a baby despite being third ranked in her class,” Smith said. “And I see them struggling to make ends meet and hold down two jobs as they raise a kid, there’s not a lot of opportunities for them and I want to do something about that.”

“You always want your kids to have a better life than you, but if you’re stuck in this cycle, it’s hard to get out of  it,” Smith said. “My hope is that they’ll be able to take advantage of this and become independent so when they leave here, be it with a college degree or some sort of certificate, they heal emotionally, spiritually, physically and then be able to have a good job and be prepared for their babies and have a better life to not continue the cycle they’re in.”

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