Care Center in Holyoke receives National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the White House
The Holyoke program is based on the belief that exposure to art, literature, history and philosophy can be life-changing for young people who have grown up in what executive director Anne Teschner calls "the quicksand of poverty."
Pictured left to right, Brendaliz Rivera, who is working on her GED, Anne Teschner, executive director, and Tashia Davis, a student at Holyoke Community College, will represent The Care Center of Holyoke when the organization receives a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from first lady Michelle Obama in Washington.
HOLYOKE – An alternative education program designed to give pregnant and parenting teen girls in Holyoke a new start in life is being honored at the White House on Wednesday.
Anne Teschner, executive director of The Care Center in Holyoke, is scheduled to receive a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from first lady Michelle Obama.
The Care Center is one of 12 programs in the country to be honored, out of what Teschner says were about 500 nominations.
The Holyoke program is based on the belief that exposure to art, literature, history and philosophy can be life-changing for young people who have grown up in what Teschner calls “the quicksand of poverty.”
It was founded in 1986 by Jane Sanders primarily to help young female dropouts earn a GED, the alternative to a high school diploma.
Teschner upped the ante. As director for the past 14 years, she encourages her girls to aim for college.
“Seventy to 80 percent of our graduates go on to college,” she said. “The national average for teen parents going to college is two percent.”
One of the young women scheduled to go to Washington D.C. with Teschner is Tashia Davis, a student at Holyoke Community College.
Davis gave birth to twins at age 16, was moved to shelters after her mother died, studied in shared bathrooms and was accepted into The Care Center.
Also scheduled to be at the ceremony is Brendaliz Rivera, 18, who has a baby daughter and lives with her mom and four brothers. Rivera was selected to read one of her poems at the ceremony.
She is still working on her GED at The Care Center. “How does it feel to wear a cap and gown?” she asked Davis.
“It feels amazing,” replied the 19-year-old.
Four of the faculty at The Care Center were also invited to the event.
Besides GED preparation, The Care Center offers an Introduction to the Humanities in collaboration with Greenfield Community College, a Poetry Project, a Readers and Writers Series and the Clemente Course in the Humanities, which meets twice a week for 28 weeks.
The Clemente Course was developed at a center for the homeless in New York City, and is now taught at sites throughout the country.
It gives low-income people access to the humanities, from the philosophy of Plato to the art of medieval cathedrals to the poetry of Langston Hughes.
At the Care Center, it’s taught by five current and former professors, including author Christopher Couch, Ph.D., who has taught at Smith, Amherst, Hampshire and Mount Holyoke colleges and the University of Massachusetts.
Administrator of the course is Bard College in New York, which decides whether to authorize college credit upon completion, based on a student’s performance.
The Care Center was the first agency to offer the Clemente Course in New England, and is still the only one to teach it to an all-female population, according to Teschner.
Teschner said the incidence of repeated pregnancy is lower at The Care Center than the national average. “We find college to be a great prophylactic,” she said.
“When people have a sense of a goal, of possibilities, of alternatives, they take the opportunity. It’s so much fun to watch the continuum and the moment when they reclaim their minds and their sense of what they can do.”
Teschner said about 100 girls pass through The Care Center every year.