Youth Connection is a nonprofit organization based in Waco, Texas, which can trace its roots back to a study completed by Baylor University. In 1981, Baylor published a Community Needs Assessment for McLennan County, which said teenage pregnancy was a major issue for the area. It was seven years later that a nonprofit began and targeted pregnancy prevention. This nonprofit was Youth Connection, though not named as such at the time.
By 1991, Youth Connection hired Carolyn Nichols, the executive director who is still with the organization today. She is the only staff member and works hard to keep all of the organization’s programs going.
“Our youth is our future,” Nichols said. “But we’re their future as well. If we’re not there for them, if we let them get pregnant at a young age, a lot of their futures are not going to be bright.”
Nichols established a few programs to assist in creating a brighter future for Waco’s youth. The most iconic of which is the Real Care Baby Program, which features a set of simulated babies designed to emulate a real child. These babies are programed to require all the care of a real baby, including feeding and diaper changes.
Many times, this attention is required in the middle of the night, so teenagers get to experience the ups and downs of parenthood. “We hear this from everyone that uses it. They can’t wait to get this baby,” Nichols said. After going through the program, “they can’t wait to give it back.”
Youth Connection loans these Real Care Babies out to Waco and McLennan County schools on a first come, first serve basis. They are meant to help teenagers make informed choices on having children early by making the teen question whether he or she is ready for the responsibility of caring for another life.
Another program Youth Connection provides is the Too Cool for Trouble program. It focuses on teaching positive values through activities after school, and many Baylor students help with it. Each month, the program focuses on teaching a certain character trait, such as trustworthiness, honesty and manners. “The site managers tell us all the time that they can see the difference when we’ve been there with the kids,” Nichols said.
Teen Mother Visits, which are the oldest service that Youth Connection offers. Nichols will visit teenage mothers at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center and provide the information the new mother needs to take care of her child. She assesses the needs of the new mother and provides information from there. “We’ve never had two alike,” Nichols said. “I don’t know of any other hospital that has what we’re doing with Teen Mother Visits that goes on anywhere else, and I think it’s really a shame.”
Nichols has worked as executive director of Youth Connection for 22 years, and in that time she has spoken with many teenage mothers. She shared that sometimes she needs to convince them to go back to school for their child’s benefit and that is not always easy.
“I tell them, if you really love this little girl, or this little boy the way you’re telling me you do, it’s going to take sacrifice on your part,” Nichols said. “You’re not going to get a decent paying job as a rule, with no education and no job training.” She said this approach works well to convince a teenage mother to get help and an education.
“I know that Mrs. Nichols is so passionate about connecting with teen moms and getting them connected with the resources they need to thrive,” Jenny Rowlands, a Youth Connection Volunteer, said. Rowlands has assisted Youth Connection through her internship at the Texas AHEC East office. She served on the steering committee which helped plan Youth Connection’s annual conference.
“It is a strong desire I have, to make a difference,” Nichols said of her work with Youth Connection. “I feel that every day with this work. I feel that we’re definitely making a difference with young people.”
Youth Connection’s mission is to facilitate the development of self-worth, educational attainment and positive life choices in youth from all walks of life.
Youth Connection is a 501(c)(3) charity. You can support Youth Connection through financial contributions. Any amount can make a difference in the life of a child. Our office is located in the Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center. For more information contact Carolyn at (254) 202-8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.O. Box 20984
Waco, TX 76702-0984