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Program Participant Since July 2013
Grant buys Pack n' Plays for Erie student parents
Angeria Williams thought she never wanted children. A senior at Erie's East High School, she was focused on her grades, all A's and B's, and what life after high school might hold. "Now he's here," Williams said, looking down at her new son, 1-month-old Kemoni. "I love him, and I don't know what I'd do without him."
But the path to parenthood was bumpy. The pregnancy was unplanned, and the 19-year-old Williams was facing an enormous change in her life. She was sad and disappointed at first. "I tried to hide the pregnancy at first. Then I couldn't hide it anymore because I was huge. I had to tell everybody," Williams said.
She turned to the Erie School District's Student Parenting Program, which helps pregnant and expecting students balance dual roles as students and parents and helps ensure babies are safe and healthy. The program provides education, counseling, advocacy, support services, and coordinates referrals to more than 65 community agencies through individual case management services. It also provides concrete material support to students: Through a grant from Cribs for Kids National Infant Safe Sleep Initiative, the program recently provided Williams and other students with Graco Pack 'n Plays. Students had the opportunity to earn a Pack 'n Play by working with their caseworker, attending education classes and doing work that keeps them on track to graduate from high school. The grant also funds education about safe sleeping practices, based on guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Putting babies to sleep on their backs in their own separate sleeping space in an age appropriate safety rated bed will help keep babies safe. ... It also allows us to talk with students about bedtime routines," said Laura Salamonsen, program manager of the Student Parenting Program. Other funding is provided through the state Departments of Education and Public Welfare through the Office of Child Development and Early Learning. The Erie School District provides matching funding.
On a recent afternoon, Williams and her caseworker, Sheila Overton, sat in Williams' Buffalo Road home. Kemoni cuddled in Williams' lap, sucking on a bottle as his eyes slowly closed. Williams laid Kemoni on his back in the Pack 'n Play, on the edge of sleep with his arms splayed out above his soft head. "This is going to be your best friend for a while," Overton said of the Pack 'n Play. "Until he learns to get out of it." "I hope so," Williams answered. The Pack n' Plays are useful in that they give moms a chance to lay the baby down in a safe and secure space, while they do housework or homework or take a breather, Overton said.
Taking much-needed breaks is a skill Williams said she learned in the Parenting Program. "If you're too stressed, take time for yourself and put him down," she said. "It's OK for him to cry." Williams isn't in a relationship with Kemoni's father, but he's supportive. So, too, is her family -- especially her dad. "He think's he's his son," Williams said and laughed. And the Parenting Program has been invaluable, she said, and not just for the material support like the Pack 'n Play. "I wouldn't know half the stuff I know today if it wasn't for the program," Williams said. "I think a lot of people should be in the program, especially new parents. It helps a lot."
For more information about the Student Parenting Program, visit or call 874-6461.
ERICA ERWIN can be reached at 870-1846 or by e-mail. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNerwin.