Yasmine Delawari Johnson, Jules Leyser, Danika Charity, Emily Lynch, Kelly Zajfen
During her second pregnancy, Yasmine Delawari Johnson started volunteering for the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a nonprofit that helps foster care children in Los Angeles. While most see LA as the glamorous home to celebrities, it also houses the largest foster care system in the US. Even more troubling: 75 percent of girls in foster care across the US become pregnant before age 21—a cycle Delawari Johnson wants to help break.
As the host of a Mommy & Me group, Delawari Johnson recruited four fellow moms—Jules Leyser, Danika Charity, Emily Lynch and Kelly Zajfen—to get involved. In the summer of 2014, they presented their idea to the Alliance for Children’s Rights, and the Alliance of Moms auxiliary group was born, quickly growing to more than 300 members in 18 months.
Alliance of Moms hosts a series of programs and events throughout the year aimed at giving teen moms and moms-to-be guidance and resources to build a strong and healthy family foundation they otherwise might not receive. These include Raising Baby (a day of workshops on infant care and brain development), Raising Foodies (monthly nutritional cooking classes), Giant Playdates and, for existing and potential members, a monthly Mom’s Night Out recruitment event.
“Every program we do has an educational angle to it,” Leyser says. “We’re really focused on early brain development because a lot of the problems kids face is that they start from behind. We talk with experts to understand areas where we can have the biggest practical impact.”
“Underneath it all, we’re all moms and we’re all figuring it out,” Delawari Johnson says of AOM’s underlying message. “Just by being moms and dealing with the challenges and joys of motherhood—that really functions as an equalizer.”
“This is personal to all of us in different ways; I’m a living example of the importance of positive intervention in women’s lives,” Leyser says. “My mom grew up in foster care and became a teen mother, but the intergenerational cycle broke quickly because what she learned in her teen years helped her provide a loving household for us. Danika’s story is similar; she’s the daughter of a teen mom who got the resources to become the parent she wanted to be. Most of our members understand the challenges these girls face from their direct or indirect personal experiences.”
“It’s been wonderful to watch the bonds that are forming from participating in these programs,” Delawari Johnson says. “Members have formed new friendships, held playdates and even started side projects for the Alliance.”
“The change you hope to see from the girls isn’t something you have to wait very long for,” Leyser says. “And all we’ve done is provide them with a sense of community and practical resources, which has helped them improve their self-worth and self-esteem. It really is a potent recipe for quick change that bodes well for their children’s futures.”
“We’re rolling out a pilot mentor program in the fall because we’ve learned that a one-on-one relationship is the biggest way to have a positive intervention in these girls’ lives. They’ve never really had a supportive adult who isn’t paid to be there and just shows up because they care.” Leyser says. “At any time there are about 400 to 500 pregnant teens in the Los Angeles foster care system and our long-term goal is to match each one with an Alliance of Moms mentor."