The Terra Centre for Teen Parents celebrates 50 years of helping young parents thrive

It all started in 1971 with a group of young moms who wanted to finish high school while keeping their children. The Terra Centre for Teen Parents has evolved significantly since then, including developing programming for young fathers and expanding support for secure housing. Most recently, the organization purchased a new building to call home.

Barb Hoff-Morin accessed Terra services in 1973, after she gave birth to her son during her final year of high school.

“I was not invited to go back to school,” she explains. “In fact, I was asked to leave school, so I didn’t have any other alternatives … It was great to be able to go there [Terra] and to be able to work on those things [academics]. It was also good to be involved with people who were non- judgmental, and also with other girls in the same circumstances.”

The idea of finishing an education while also being a young parent was a somewhat radical idea when Terra was created. “It was a difficult time to keep their children,” explains executive director Karen Mottershead. “Very often, they were strongly encouraged to surrender them and give them up for adoption.”

Back when Hoff-Morin joined, Terra was run out of an old house behind the LeMarchand Mansion. When Mottershead joined Terra in 1997, it was just moving into its current location on 106 Street, where it serves young parents from all corners of the city. It will leave this location in January 2022 to transition into a building that can better serve young families. The new building will include a learning lab for parents seeking alternatives to complete their high school education and engage in employment readiness.

“Childcare and finishing high school have always been core to our mission,” Mottershead says. “That has never changed over the last 50 years. It looks different now that there’s a very robust educational program at Braemar School … Over the years, we’ve really come to recognize that, for young parents and their children to be strong and healthy and successful, there are other supports that are needed.”

In addition to support for young fathers and housing assistance, Terra recently expanded to providing mental-health support and aid for Terra participants and alumni who move on to post- secondary programs.

“Everybody has curveballs that are thrown at them in life — things that we don’t expect,” says Mottershead. “And that doesn’t mean you’re any less of a person or a bad person, but it’s how you rise up to those challenges. And I think Terra provides a way for young parents going through an unplanned pregnancy to rise up to those challenges and embrace it in a way that works for them.”

Hoff-Morin has been volunteering with Terra for many years. The experience of young parents, and prevailing attitudes towards them, haven’t changed much, she reflects. “My feelings roll back in time when I’m with them [the young parents], because I realize that they’re experiencing the same feelings, the same emotions, the same things, that I felt when I was a young mom… you don’t feel adequate.”

The taboo around teen pregnancy isn’t helping anyone, Hoff-Morin says. “There are some people who are critical of these incidences that would help any other stranger or any other person through almost anything else, but they find it difficult to help a young woman that’s going to have a child and isn’t married, and maybe, in their minds, is too young to do that,” she says.

A key part of Terra’s work is to build the confidence of young parents. Many Terra alumni have gone on to be successful in post-secondary studies, own their own businesses and make their communities brighter places in a number of ways.

“I felt lucky with my life,” said Hoff-Morin. “I just hope that everyone that has an expectation of where they want to be in their life is able to do that.”

For 50 years, Terra has been helping young parents in Edmonton complete their high school education and transition into adulthood, all while focusing on the healthy upbringings of their children. Since 1992, Edmonton Community Foundation has provided Terra Centre with over $2.8 million in grant funding.

This story comes from the Winter 2021 edition of Legacy in Action. Browse the full magazine here.