Huntington resident launches program to support, guide teen moms
If you ask Jordan Sheils why she took a leap of faith to launch a mentorship program for teen mothers in Huntington, she will answer with the honesty, faith and compassion on which her entire mission is based.
"I have a God-shaped hole in my heart that is aching to be filled with Him --and I know these young girls have that same vacancy," said Sheils, who is working with the widely known Young Life organization to bring a program called YoungLives to Huntington.
YoungLives is a ministry of Young Life especially for teen moms and their babies. Through large outreach events, small get-togethers and one-on-one relationships, adult mentors come alongside teen mothers to offer friendship, guidance and hope. Sheils said West Virginia's high teen pregnancy rate makes young mothers a particularly vulnerable population.
"I feel like a lot of times teen moms are regarded as irresponsible and not worthy of the grace we show to many other populations in need," she said. "People often don't realize the feelings and struggles teen parents face, or they think there's no real way to help. But this is the perfect opportunity to make a lasting impact for the kingdom of God."
Through YoungLives, volunteer mentors provide ongoing support to teen girls by offering the simple gift of their time. They encourage young mothers in their struggles and provide true, lasting friendship. At YoungLives Club, the teenagers come together for food, fun, music and other activities. Childcare is provided at every club meeting to allow the moms an opportunity to relax and have fun with one another. At YoungLives Campaigners, moms who wish to grow in their Christian faith meet for a more intimate gathering of friends and mentors. Finally, at YoungLives Camp, teen moms and their children are able to participate in Young Life's annual adventure camps, complete with pools, zip lines, ropes courses and more.
"During camp, the girls get a break from their everyday schedules," Sheils said. "They have the opportunity to experience all the fun their peers do."
For Sheils, YoungLives answers a question she had been asking herself for a while. Currently an art teacher at Verity Middle School in Ashland, Sheils had been searching for a new way to make a difference. One night while browsing the general Young Life website, Sheils stumbled on the page for YoungLives.
"I was familiar with the Young Life organization but had never heard a thing about YoungLives," she said. "It was literally as if the second I read about it, God spoke to my heart, and I knew I had to be involved in some capacity. I didn't know to what extent or how it would materialize, but it was as if God sealed my heart to the ministry in an instant."
After traveling to Richmond, Va., to learn more about the thriving YoungLives program there, Sheils knew exactly what her next steps would be. A lifelong resident of Huntington, Sheils began to research what it would take to bring the program to her hometown. Now, just months later, Sheils is working determinedly to raise the $80,000 necessary to fund the program as well as reaching out to potential volunteers and committee members.
"I truly believe this is an opportunity for area churches to come together and wrap our arms around these young women," she said. "I would love to see volunteer mentors from all walks of life, from all congregations and of all nationalities and races unite and do what Huntingtonians do best."
Having grown up in a large family that taught her the importance of giving back to the community, 27-year-old Sheils said she is thankful to her parents, her grandparents and her extended family for being the first ones to show her how to serve others.
"The values instilled by my family, beginning with my grandfather, the late Dr. William Sheils Sr., have shaped all facets of my life," she said. "Through his life he showed us the importance of loving others and showing compassion, respect and dignity no matter the circumstance. My family has been a wonderful example to me of what a giving spirit truly looks like."
Sheils said she has felt God's guidance through the entire planning process.
"I have never once truly worried about raising funds for this program, because I know I can depend on the loving, generous Huntington public and my sovereign God," she said. "God's hand has been in the process perfectly thus far."
For more information about partnering with the YoungLives program, contact Sheils at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gifts are tax deductible and are accepted in the form of a monthly pledge or single donation. They can be made payable to YoungLives Huntington and mailed to Jordan Sheils, c/o Young Life Huntington, P.O. Box 505, Huntington, WV 25710. If the fundraising requirements for an operating budget are met by July 31, the YoungLives program will kick off at the beginning of the 2013 school year.
"On the deepest, most fundamental level, I just want to make a difference," Sheils said. "I want to invest my life in things that won't rot or rust. I desire true, meaningful relationships with people. I desire to share the Gospel. I want young girls to know that in the eyes of Christ, they are loved."
Katherine Reasons Pyles is a former Yeager Scholar at Marshall University and is managing editor of HQ Publications.