A voice for young mothers

WILLMAR -- Having a son has made Samantha feel needed -- "something I have never felt before," the young mother said. "I learned to love myself again watching how much my son adores me."...

Rhonda Otteson
Rhonda Otteson, director of The Link, shows off one of the posters created for a PhotoVoice project on “Views and Voices of Young Mothers.” The project was one of the 2013 funding recipients of the Willmar Area Community Foundation Women’s Fund. (Tribune photo by Anne Polta)

WILLMAR - Having a son has made Samantha feel needed - “something I have never felt before,” the young mother said. “I learned to love myself again watching how much my son adores me.”
The tattoo on Haily’s shoulder reminds her every day of her devotion to her daughter. “She’s like this tattoo - she’s made a permanent mark on my life and who I am,” she said.
Their stories are part of a PhotoVoice project organized by The Link, a local faith-based advocacy and resource network, to share the experiences of young mothers through photos and text. The collection of story posters officially went on exhibit in August.
One of the next opportunities for the public to see the exhibit will be September 18 at Time for Tea, a benefit for the Women’s Fund of the Willmar Area Community Foundation.
The fund provided a grant to support the Views and Voices project, one of three grants it awarded last year.
Kandiyohi County is among the 10 Minnesota counties with the state’s highest rate of teen pregnancy, and The Link saw a need to do more to support this young population, said Rhonda Otteson, director of The Link.
Two years ago The Link worked with four local women, middle-aged and older, to tell their stories through PhotoVoice, a global project that combines photography and narrative to share perspectives that might otherwise be hidden.
The success of the effort inspired a similar storytelling project this past year, this time involving young women who became mothers early in life.
“Being a young parent is really different from being a 25-year-old parent,” Otteson said. “You’re still developing as a person and you also have to develop this young person who’s in your care. There are sacrifices made. Sometimes it means not spending time with friends.”
Four young mothers, all from the New London-Spicer area, participated in the project.
All were in their early to mid-20s, Otteson said. “Some of them were teens when they became a mom.”
Over the course of several weeks, they worked with a facilitator who helped them turn their experiences and feelings into words. Using smartphones, they captured images of their lives.
“They chose their path and they crafted what they wanted,” Otteson said. “Photography can be very powerful. Words are very powerful too but we are a visual society. This is designed to get a snapshot.”
The resulting posters will be displayed in upcoming months at local events.
They will also be used in media and awareness campaigns by The Link.
To support them through the project, the young women were connected with local resources to help meet some of their economic and social needs.
All of them are now pursuing further education, Otteson said.
“I think it sheds light on how their life can really pivot in a positive way,” she said. “All these women have really risen to the challenge of being a fantastic parent and moving forward in a way that will support their family as they give back to their community.”

Time for Tea

Time for Tea, a fundraiser for the Women’s Fund of the Willmar Area Community Foundation, will be from 5 to 7 p.m. September 18 at the Willmar Conference Center.
A sampling of teas, foods and entertainment will be offered, along with a short program recognizing the 2014 Women’s Fund grant recipients.
Grants were awarded in 2013 to The Link for its “Views and Voices of Young Mothers” project; Heartland Community Action Agency to hold Kitchen Kamp, a program to teach nutrition and cooking skills to young women; the Willmar School District Child Guide program for activities enriching the lives of at-risk girls; and Safe Avenues, which provides shelter and other services to victims of abuse.
Tickets for Time for Tea are $40 each. They can be ordered online at or by mailing a check, payable to WACF Women’s Fund, to P.O. Box 1291, Willmar, MN 56201. The registration deadline is Sept. 11.
The Women’s Fund was established in 2008 under the umbrella of the Willmar Area Community Foundation. Its goal is to foster economic and social strength among women and girls, especially those experiencing challenges in the areas of immigration, early pregnancy, abuse, and addiction and recovery.

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