College nursing student, Arlinda Estrada, stops by to pick up some groceries on her way to gathering her three kids from school, then she heads home to dinner with her husband and family time. Most would never guess how Arlinda’s story began, and what a very different and desperate picture it was.
She was a brand new teenager when she gave birth to her first born. At 13 years old and now with a child to care for, Arlinda had little support from her mother or the baby’s father. She was scared, very angry, and felt completely alone and unworthy of love or a future. Then she learned about The Mama Club, APO’s outreach to teen parents. While she knew that The Mama Club was a faith-based ministry to teen moms, her primary motivation to attend was to get free diapers, clothes and a hot meal. But from that first night she attended, something happened. “There was a peace and love in that room,” recalls Arlinda. “Everyone was so welcoming and wanted to know my child.” In fact, it was not the free diapers after all, but the people serving at Mama Club that made Arlinda return week after week.
“The idea that I could go someplace and not be judged, and being around other teen moms that were going through the same thing — made it feel like I belonged there. To be 13 and pregnant, there is so much judgment in this world. The looks from people made it hard. I was blessed to go someplace, even if it were just once a week, to not feel judged, to be acknowledged and to have someone to talk with.”
Over the next several years, Arlinda attended The Mama Club regularly where she enjoyed learning about the “basics” of parenting such as potty training and discipline. She felt good about being held accountable week to week — Mama Club leaders would ask the teens how they put into practice what they learned. For
example, when discussing the importance of reading to their children, the leaders would encourage moms to share the titles of books they had read to their children the previous week.
But the true impact came not from the parenting lessons, but through the heart change that began to happen through Arlinda’s time at The Mama Club.
“Before attending (Mama Club) I wasn’t into the ‘Jesus thing.’ I didn’t attend church, I didn’t pray. At first I just went along with hearing about God’s word, but after attending for some time, my eyes started to open to the person of God. I started praying and getting a sense of peace — the same peace I saw the leaders at Mama Club have. It felt great. I craved that feeling and my relationship with the Lord grew.”
As her faith and personal confidence grew, Arlinda invited other girls to The Mama Club because she knew that they would be supported and loved. And even though the free diapers and food attract young moms at first, Arlinda says it’s the relationship with the leaders and hearing God’s Word that becomes the main attraction and transforming force. Arlinda is now a married mother of three loving and healthy children. And she is currently attending college to pursue her dream of becoming a RN. Their family regularly attends church and also a weekly Bible study/small group to support and encourage them in their walk. Far from the hopeless and angry new mom who first walked through APO’s Mama Club doors many years ago, a strong and faithful Arlinda has exciting dreams for the future.
“My hope for my family is that we stay healthy and my husband and I raise our kids to the best of our abilities. I pray that when they grow up they are all that God intended them to be. I hope that one day my husband and I can do missionary work.”
She readily tells anyone that if it weren’t for The Mama Club, she would have taken a different road. It is a blessing to see how this program, while directly reaching one teen mom, has gone on to affect the lives of three children, a husband, and the countless other young girls Alrinda has invited to the program.