Facelift to Neighborhood Jewel: Inwood house is a sanctuary for pregnant teens

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By Anam Baig

A recent two-year renovation of the Upper East Side's Inwood House, a sanctuary for young mothers and pregnant teens, provided more much-needed space for New York City's vulnerable youth.

Renovations of the 97-year-old building at 320 E. 82nd St. have transformed the space into a state-of-the-art facility equipped with a nursery, computer lab, fully loaded kitchen, classrooms and individual bedrooms for the 30 girls who live there. A technology grant provided by Cisco Systems has added modern innovations to the building as well as wireless Internet access.

This Teen Family Learning Center provides educational programs, health classes and employable skills training for pregnant teens and mothers ages 14 and up. The girls have been referred to the Inwood House by agencies such as the Department of Children's Services and Covenant House, a place for runaways.

"It's a real haven," said Kathleen Cooney Clarke, assistant executive director for development and external affairs. "It's a place where [teen mothers] can really develop the skills they need. You can't change the fact that they're 16-, 15-, 14-year-olds who need to do teenage things. They need to go to school, have friendships, discover what their talent is. Unfortunately, they're here because they don't have family support to help them through this. This gives them a safe environment to have encouragement."

Since its inception, Inwood House Maternity Residences and Family Support Programs has expanded to 22 program sites in New York City and New Jersey. They provide youth development, teen pregnancy prevention and family support programs to 4,000 pregnant and parenting teens annually that are homeless, in foster care or have become too old for foster care.

The Inwood House started in New York City in the mid-1800s as a positive alternative living residence for destitute young prostitutes who were orphaned, pregnant or had run away from abusive homes.

Much like today, philanthropists and volunteers provided the girls with shelter, a family and community, education and employable skills.

Inwood House employs youth development teen pregnancy prevention programs, such as Teen Choice and the after-school prevention program PRIME (Productive, Resourceful, Innovative, Motivated and Empowered) Leaders. These programs provide teen pregnancy and AIDS prevention education as well as counseling in schools and community-based settings.

The kitchen space in the basement has doubled and now includes a separate area where mothers are given cooking classes on nutritious meals for themselves and their babies.

"This place gives the girls and their babies a new start. The education we provide is long-term and helps them improve as individuals, productive employees and active citizens. If you want to break the cycle of poverty, Inwood House is one of the best long-term investments you can

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