By Jennifer Taylor
When Caleb Kaltenbach became the senior pastor at Valley View Christian Church (Dallas, TX), he challenged members to get more involved in local outreach.
“My wife, Marla, and I led a life group and began discussing what we could do,” says John Latvatalo, an elder at Valley View. “My daughter, who is a teacher, told us about a teen mom who was struggling to stay in school. We wanted to help but didn’t know where to start.”
The couple contacted the school district’s parenting program, planning simply to give money.
“But the school told us these girls really need to stay connected to a peer group,” Latvatalo says. “They lose touch with friends, feel alone in their struggles as young mothers, and drop out of school. We decided to find ways to encourage them.”
The Latvatalos and their life group held a simple event at the church, with food and games and volunteers to care for the babies. Four girls attended. Eighteen months later, the ministry—now called “Blessing Teen Parents”—welcomes as many as 65 teens from five local schools to its monthly events.
“It’s very simple, but they love it,” Latvatalo says. “We hold the gatherings one Tuesday night a month from September to July. Each month is something different: a spa night, a Christmas party, a baby shower, a picnic and clothes swap. In the spring we have a celebration for the girls who are graduating.”
Encouraging the teens to finish high school and pursue further training is a key focus for the ministry; they’ve used donations to create scholarships and received permission to present them at the high school’s awards event.
The BTP volunteers are also building relationships with the teen fathers, sharing pizza and playing basketball with them in the church gym while the girls enjoy their monthly event.
“In many cases these guys want to be involved and want to be good dads, but they’re just kids,” Latvatalo says.
He says the ministry tries not to replicate the good resources already provided to teen moms by the schools, local agencies, and other organizations.
“We also struggled a bit with some volunteers who liked the idea of the ministry but wanted us to focus on teaching abstinence,” he says. “We invite these kids to church and we don’t hide our faith, but our job is not to preach. Maybe they’ll begin attending services, or maybe they’ll just remember there was a church that loved them. Our ministry is providing a place to belong and be loved.”