For most expecting mothers, the thought of welcoming a child into the world is exciting and a quite the challenge. For teen or young mothers who aren’t married or who may not have a stable home life, it’s downright daunting.
In Sulphur, there is a place where these young moms can receive help in not only in nurturing their child, but also in learning the skills necessary to be a parent in today’s society.
Five years ago Cyndi Mereo founded Guiding Light Ministries through her desire to give back at Maplewood First Baptist Church. She found that once her own children left the proverbial nest, she needed something to fill that void. She also found that there were local teens and young adult moms who were in need of mentorship.
It was the perfect fit.
What Mereo discovered in the beginning was that there wasn’t a lot of education and support in the immediate area for teen moms or young moms. “One thing led to another and things just took off.”
Guiding Light is a ministry for moms, 24 and under, that works with Maplewood First Baptist Church and the Sulphur Christian Community Coalition. Guiding Light started its fifth year as a ministry in September.
“Originally we intended on it being a ministry for teen moms, but, I kept running into previous students of mine and hearing their needs,” Mereo, who teaches General Equivalency Diploma (GED) students at Sulphur High, said. “We started teaming our moms up with Christian mentors and it began to grow.”
The mentors are Christian wives and mothers who build relationships and share life experiences with the girls as well as help meet spiritual goals.
It was an inauspicious beginning, however. Mereo advertised her first meeting for young mothers and prepared to host them but nobody showed up. That didn’t deter her. Her first mom was a senior at Sulphur High School at the time who was eight months pregnant. She was directed to Mereo and Guiding Light Ministries began.
Mereo said the ministry is growing still. “We had four new girls this week. It’s good that we’re growing, but … it’s also the reality that we have more girls out there pregnant and in need,” she said as she addressed the Sulphur Kiwanis Club at a recent meeting.
The mentorship doesn’t end once the girls have their children.
Guiding Light also hosts life skills and infant care workshops on a regular basis. There are also classes such as cake decorating or budgeting a household or even learning to drive and taking a driver’s test, as well as studying to take the GED. The goal, according to Mereo, is to empower young women through love and support.
There are also activity workshops such as scrapbooking, cleaning tips, and couponing.
At times, though, it’s not all about education. The ministry will lend a helping hand when needed if funding is available. “We don’t always have the funds, but we have had instances when we helped with rent and other finances,” Mereo explained.
The relationship doesn’t end with just the educational classes. Every time a girl attends one of the ministry’s classes or events, it’s up to a mentor to establish a relationship and follow up with that young mom.
The program tries to get the whole group together twice a month for activities. The rest is up to the mentor and the girl with whom they are partnered. “At that point it’s up to the mentors to establish a personal relationship with the girls on their own. If you only see someone twice a month, you’re not going to get to know them very well,” Mereo said.
Originally there were 13 mentors involved in the ministry. Mereo said the time commitment is huge for mentors. “It really takes about a year for a girl to start trusting a mentor,” she said.
In the five years since its inception, the program has ministered for a year or longer to 32 girls. “We are invested in the lives of these young ladies,” Mereo said. “We spend a lot of time with them.”
As the ministry grows, however, there are more girls than there are mentors. It’s something Mereo is working on for the future. While that is an important issue for Guiding Light, funding is always at the forefront.
“The main help for our ministry is money,” she said. “Everything we do for the girls is free for them so we have to budget for our needs,” she added.
In addition to donations of money, the ministry also accepts donations such as diapers and wet wipes. They also accept clothes, strollers and other supplies. They even accept donations of gift cards to stores such as Walmart.
For the girls to earn those items they are awarded what Mereo calls “baby bucks.” As they build up baby bucks in the program they use them to shop for items as they would out in the community.
If you are a young mom or expecting mother in need or know someone who could benefit from the ministry, Maplewood Baptist Church is located at 4501 Maplewood Drive in Sulphur. You can visit the ministry’s website at www.guidinglightministries.org or call Mereo directly at 337-263-0348.