At 17, Jasmine was a typical Grade 11 high school student. She had a part-time job at McDonald’s and a boyfriend. It was during a parenting class, while learning about the symptoms of pregnancy, that Jasmine realized she might be pregnant. After going to a local public health clinic, Jasmine was informed that she was indeed pregnant. From there, she started telling those closest to her about her news: “My boyfriend was really excited about the idea of starting a family together.” It was a bit more difficult for Jasmine to break the news to her parents. “My mom was very surprised,” she said. “I don’t think she believed me at first. When I told my dad, he suggested that I should leave my family home.”
With nowhere to go, Jasmine spoke to a high school guidance counselor about resources for young parents and pregnant teens. Living in Mississauga, there wasn’t much available. But after doing a quick online search, Jasmine discovered Jessie’s. Despite the distance, Jasmine started going to Jessie’s regularly and found that they offered much more than the average resource centre.
Jessie’s—The June Callwood Centre for Young Women—was founded in 1982 after local activist June Callwood came to the conclusion that Toronto was grossly lacking in resources for young parents under the age of 18. What began as a four-person operation has grown into a community that serves over 200 pregnant teenagers and 1,100 young parents and their children each year. Unlike so-called “pregnancy crisis” centres, Jessie’s offers resources for young women no matter what they choose—whether it’s abortion, adoption, or parenting. As the centre celebrated its first annual fundraising gala at the TIFF Bell Lightbox recently, I was able to sit down with Jasmine.
“Jessie’s is like my second home,” she said. “They helped me with everything. The first thing they wanted to do was help me find safe, affordable housing. After that, they got me started with prenatal classes.” When Jasmine informed her counselors that she wanted to have a home birth, they found her a midwife in Mississauga. In addition to the educational classes that Jasmine took to learn about pregnancy, nutrition, and breastfeeding, she was also able to get involved in belly casting, prenatal and family photography, and even enjoy spa days and field trips. Jasmine took advantage of every resource she could, from all-ages parenting classes to getting her child signed up for daycare while she was still pregnant.
This mix of practical and recreational resources ensured that Jasmine was able to enjoy her pregnancy and the arrival of her daughter Aaniyah. And when things got tough, she knew she could count on the support of her community. “Sometimes you’re just having a rough day, or the baby is teething, and you can go to Jessie’s and hang out with all the other women and talk,” said Jasmine. “Jessie’s takes away the isolation of being a new mom.”
With the support of her daughter’s father and her teachers, Jasmine was even able to graduate high school with her class. And once again, the guidance of her counselors at Jessie’s proved invaluable: “I was actually accepted into the dental hygiene program at George Brown College, but my heart wasn’t in it. One of my counselors suggested that I look into Durham College for their small business and entrepreneurship program.” Now in her final year of college, Jasmine has already started a business called Young Savvy Mommy, where she does workshops for young parents. She is also launching a blog on July 1.
Jasmine knows that without the numerous resources she found at Jessie’s, she probably wouldn’t be where she is today. “Without Jessie’s I would probably be struggling,” she said. “I don’t think I would’ve finished school or gone to college or started a business. I think I would’ve been overwhelmed, working full-time and trying to pay rent. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Jessie’s; they’ve been my support system and my family.”