Back in 1986, Audruin Pittman, was a frightened, pregnant 15-year-old with no place to turn. “I ran away from home to a friend’s house without telling my parents,” says Pittman, now 46. “I had two diapers and a stuffed animal and I figured that was all I would need.”
Eluding discovery for three months, she eventually returned home to her worried family and gave birth to a baby boy after her 16th birthday. When school started that year, she was directed to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and its fledgling Project NATEEN, a teen pregnancy case management program for young parents which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
“I can’t imagine I would be here today without Project NATEEN,” Pittman says. “I couldn’t get a job, I couldn’t drive and I didn’t know how I was going to finish school. At NATEEN, they showed me the way.”
Over the past three decades, the program has helped more than 8,000 teens from the Los Angeles community, says Carla Hill, Project NATEEN manager. The program was founded at a time when teen pregnancy was reaching epidemic proportions nationwide and services were limited. The CDC recently announced the national teen pregnancy rate is at historic lows, with a birthrate of 24 per 1,000 women.
Project NATEEN stands for nurturing, advocacy, teaching, empowerment, education, and networking. It offers housing assistance, healthcare services, an education curriculum, parenting skills classes, job training and individual case management support to help young parents get back on their feet.
“It improves their finishing school, their becoming employed and their children getting health services,” says Marvin Belzer, MD, director of CHLA’s Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, which oversees Project NATEEN. “It’s really done some innovative things, such as working with fathers and not just mothers in trying to provide them with the support to be employable and understand how to be engaged as a parent.”
This past year, the program provided services for more than 150 teen parents ranging in age from 14 to 19. That group included fifteen young women who recently graduated from Project NATEEN’s on site Second Chance High School. Stephanie Williams was a high school dropout and a single mother who had struggled with homelessness when she enrolled in Second Chance two years ago, earning a diploma this year with the help of childcare financial support from Cal-Learn. She is planning on enrolling in community college with an eye toward a career in computer engineering. “I want to make a difference,” she says. “I want a career so I can help support my family.”
Observes Hill: “It’s amazing, what the right intervention can do for these young people.”
For Pittman, her Project NATEEN experience led to a career working with underserved youth for various nonprofit agencies. Her son, now 30, is doing well and raising a family. After earning a bachelor’s degree in social work, the mother of three eventually came full circle back at CHLA, not as a client, but as a project coordinator in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine. “Thanks to NATEEN, I found my calling,” she says.