Eighth-graders test waters of parenthood with Catholic Charities program

Samantha and Sandra Falls from Chino Valley High School participated in the "Baby Ready or Not" program through Catholic Charities' North Star Youth Partnership. (courtesy photo)
Samantha and Sandra Falls from Chino Valley High School participated in the “Baby Ready or Not” program through Catholic Charities’ North Star Youth Partnership. (courtesy photo)

PRESCOTT — “I had a student who was in foster care,” said Kasey Shaver, administrative assistant for North Star Youth Partnership. “Her life was very unhappy. She thought if she had a baby who would love her unconditionally, she would be able to control her life.”

Shaver is the coordinator of a little-known program from Catholic Charities to help explain the complexities of having a baby, particularly for young, unmarried parents. Through “Baby…Ready or Not’’ eighth-graders learn first-hand what it means to be a parent by “having a baby.”

“After a weekend with one of our babies, she realized that was not what she wanted.”

After an hour-and-a-half orientation, the students are sent home with their baby to care for over the weekend, “so they really learn the impact a child has on them and on their families,” Shaver said. “We feel the weekend is most important because that is when their friends are going to malls and parties, but they have to stay home with their babies.”

Calling the babies “dolls” doesn’t do them justice. These are high-tech, computerized mannequins that behave as close to a human as is possible. No two are programmed alike.

At 3 p.m. the baby “comes alive.” It may whimper or coo or cry to have its diaper changed. From Friday afternoon through Monday morning, the babies replicate the activities of a real infant. They wake in the middle of the night and cry. They fuss to be held or rocked. The computer registers whether the baby has been treated roughly, left in the heat or its head has dropped too far. During de-briefing on Monday, Shaver says the students show a real appreciation for what it means to be a parent.

Shaver encourages boys to take the babies home to get a better understanding of what a mother goes through and what a father’s responsibilities entail. Students are encouraged to keep a journal about their thoughts and feelings during the weekend.

Shaver started the program six years ago and plans to contact those early participants to see how it affected their behavior and attitudes about dating relationships and pre-marital sex. “I tell all the students that having a baby is the most rewarding thing you could ever do. But not till you’re ready.”

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‘Baby… Ready or Not

The free, “Baby… Ready or Not” class is scheduled June 26-29. A July class could be scheduled if there is sufficient interest.

For more information contact Kasey Shaver at (928) 708-7206 or visit Catholic Charities at 434 W. Gurley St. in Prescott.

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By Mary Dahl, The Catholic Sun.