How the nonprofit empowers young mothers to pursue their dreams
Latosha Jenkins, who turned to Florence Crittenton when she had her first child, now sits on the nonprofit’s board.
When Latosha Jenkins turned 21, she gave birth to her first child. “My home situation was pretty chaotic with my mom and grandmother very disappointed that I had a baby out of wedlock. They wanted me to go to college,” she recalls. “A friend told me she was getting into the program at Florence Crittenton. I called because I had to do something different for my son. I had nothing to lose.” Twenty years later, Jenkins is on the board of the organization that taught her how to care for her newborn and helped her secure a furnished apartment. “They were really there for me. I felt so comfortable talking about things I couldn’t even talk to my own family about. They never judged me. They never made me feel foolish; they wanted me to mature and become a better woman and pay it forward,” says Jenkins, who works at the Department of Social Services and plans to finish her master’s degree in social work this summer.
Jenkins’s success demonstrates the importance of Florence Crittenton’s mission, says executive director Cheryl O’Donnell. “[We] provide hope, safety, and opportunity for young women, providing them with the tools they need to live independently, the opportunity to finish their education uninterrupted by their pregnancy, and to develop career skills and get jobs to support themselves and their child.”
The nonprofit runs two programs: one at the downtown facility and one in the community. The residential program accepts up to 16 women and children ages 10 to 20 years old who are pregnant or in foster care. Those who are expecting can live there until their child is a year old. The in-house program expanded in 2016 to accept girls who are not pregnant because the state doesn’t have enough foster homes, especially for older girls, O’Donnell explains. She views the expansion as an investment in helping the girls make smart choices. The community program provides rental assistance for expecting mothers and their children.
(Left) The Florence Crittenton Home has been providing a safe space for pregnant women since 1932; (Right) Executive director Cheryl O’Donnell (center) with board members Angela Wertz and Jenkins at the 2020 Wine, Women, & Shoes.
There were 210 babies born to women between the ages of 10 to 19 in Charleston County in 2019. Of those, 93 percent of the mothers were single. “When you look at the statistics, the young women in foster care are at risk of becoming teen parents or having a child before the age of 21,” O’Donnell explains. “We want to create a place for young women who don’t have a safe space to be,” she says, adding, “Having a baby as a young woman or teen does not end your potential. They just need the right support to continue to work toward their dreams.”
O’Donnell says the money raised last year during their annual Wine, Women, & Shoes fundraiser, which was held just before events began to be canceled due to the pandemic, has been a saving grace for the nonprofit. This year’s event has been rescheduled from May to October.
The support from Florence Crittenton’s programs permeates throughout a woman’s life, says O’Donnell. The nonprofit recently received a handwritten letter from a grateful mother calling herself “85 years young” who said the organization helped her more than 60 years ago. O’Donnell says the letter writer is one of thousands the organization has helped since it was established in 1897. “When we open those letters, we are half in tears. It reminds us that this issue is far from over and that this has an impact even so many years later in a woman’s life.”
And while Florence Crittenton is taking its Mother’s Day celebration virtual this year, alumna Jenkins isn’t focused on the holiday. The son who brought her to the program is now 22 and a senior at Clemson University. She’s married and has two other sons, an 18-year-old and a nine-year-old. “My children are my pride, but I don’t make a big fuss about Mother’s Day because I am a mother every day,” Jenkins says. She says her grandmother and mother are now supportive. “Both told me they were very proud of me and very proud of the role models my sons serve as for younger cousins,” she says. “I always knew I was going to make something of myself. I am strong, I am enough, and I can do anything I put my mind to.” And, now, Jenkins is paying it forward.