Durham nonprofit H.E.A.R.T.S. helps teen moms graduate and thrive

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- In 2018, more than 8,000 teen girls became pregnant in the state of North Carolina with 259 in Durham County alone.

Many of these young mothers often drop out of high school, but a nonprofit is working to change that statistic by helping young moms become self-sufficient, independent and ultimately graduate. It's a milestone that helps them to create better lives for themselves and their children.

Every other Tuesday, Tameka Brown comes to Hillside High School in Durham to meet with young girls who are either pregnant, have given birth already or have experienced miscarriage. Brown, who has a degree in parenting and child development, started the nonprofit H.E.A.R.T.S. which stand for Helping Each Adolescent Reach Their Spark. She decided she needed to do something after watching the isolation her own best friend endured after becoming pregnant at 15.

"I was 15 and I could not help her and she was my best friend. We planned to go to college together. We planned our whole lives out," Brown said. Those plans faded for Brown's friend, and now she's on a mission to keep the dreams of these young students in focus by helping them set their sights on graduation and college.

"We have a 100 percent graduation rate and what that means is we've graduated every senior who has come through our program," Brown said.

That makes 39 graduates in all including Angel Hope who gave birth to her daughter Gabrielle on the first day of school her 9th grade school year. She was 15.

"I needed to graduate to show not only myself, but to show my child that no matter what happens, no matter what's going on. You can still graduate. You can still do what you want to do," Hope said.

Now a freshman at North Carolina Central University, Angel comes back to inspire other girls and to have hard conversations about the reality of being a teen mom.

"As a parent you have to prioritize your life. Always put your child first," Hope said.

H.E.A.R.T.S. graduate, Jania Liles got pregnant with her son Nico at 16. She says having a place open up meant everything to her emotionally.

"I learned to never keep nothing in and talk everything out with somebody close that you feel comfortable with," Liles said.

Having someone to talk to is exactly why 15-year-old sophomore, Kiara Yeager, who suffered a miscarriage continues to attend H.E.A.R.T.S. meetings. She needs to be around the other girls in a supportive space to express her feelings.

"I lost my child. That was really hard for me and him both. This is the only place that I've talked about it. I don't talk about it with my mom," Yeager said.

For these girls, Brown is the mom many of them need during a difficult time. The "Queen of Hearts" as they call her providing support through compassion and education.

Brown says hearing their stories is a constant reminder of her best friend and the support she didn't have.

"There ladies are my way of giving back to her. What I could not do for her then," Brown said.

Right now H.E.A.R.T.S. is available at Hillside and Southern High Schools in Durham. Brown says it's the only theory-based interventional organization geared towards educating pregnant teenagers.

She says we educate on self-development, family development and financial awareness, but admits it's been difficult to find funding and support. H.E.A.R.T.S. is partnering with the Durham County Health Department to make sure these students get the support services they need.
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