The Hagar Center works as a resource center and place of hope for pregnant teens in the Frayser community.
Frayser was put on the national stage several years ago when it was reported that around 90 girls in the same high school were pregnant. News headlines across the country focused on the dramatic teen pregnancy epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee.
Five years down the road, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in research and advertising later, teen pregnancy continues to be a very real issue in the Frayser community.
Erma Simpson has been working in the area for years and saw that the problem was not going to be solved that easily.
“The city got a lot of money for teen pregnancy and they did a lot of things until the funds ran out,” she said. “But we were still getting pregnant girls, the schools are filled with pregnant girls.”
In order to combat the issue, one girl at a time, Simpson recently founded The Hagar Center: a one-stop comprehensive resource agency designed to connect all teen mothers with pre- and postnatal services. The center will focus on two major concerns for teen mothers: education and health.
“I guess what disturbs me – well a lot of it disturbs me – but if these girls were born in different ZIP codes they’d have different futures and different lives,” said Simpson.
She emphasized that many of the girls that she has worked with in the past were bright young women who wanted to do well, they wanted to become doctors and lawyers and teachers, they just faced much larger obstacles.
“Their challenges are the environment that they were born in and the parents they were born to,” Simpson said. “None of us choose our parents, we get who we’ve got. They don’t choose crack mothers and they don’t choose dads who commit crimes and go to prison who they never see in their lives.”
The Hagar Center will be a safe space for teen mothers who need assistance and consistency. Currently it is located in the back of the Exchange club building in Frayser, where volunteers will be working with the girls. Starting out the center will help teach the girls how to make doctor’s appointments and ensure they get to those appointments.
“They don’t have money, short of prostitution they can’t get money for bus fare,” Simpson said. “Some of them don’t know how to catch buses, they don’t know where to call or the language to navigate making an appointment.”
The girls that the Center plans to work with are as young as 11, most of whom have not been to the doctor themselves in years – if ever. The minutiae of everyday pregnancy that many women take for granted are completely foreign to these girls. They are unaware of the importance of things like pre-natal vitamins, check-ups, knowing which foods to avoid, and preparing themselves mentally for the process of giving birth.
Simpson hopes that the Center will soon be able to provide a residency for some of the young mothers who are homeless, a place where underage girls can live with and care for their baby.
Currently one of the only options for girls under the age of 18 is foster care. When teens have babies in foster care the chances of the mother and child being separated are high. Simpson said it is common for the mother to age out of the system and not know where her baby is.
Although there are some organizations that work on similar issues, they are not well-known or located in the community. What the pregnant teens in Frayser need is a place to go when they don’t know where to turn, and that is what The Hagar Center aims to become.
The Hagar Center is operating with no funds, 100 percent volunteered work. Simpson said they need all the help they can get and are very grateful to have aid from a local church congregation. This is not a quick-fix program; it is a place where pregnant girls can go to get what they need.
“If we can get one to change, to want something, that represents a whole generation,” said Simpson. “We can’t help people who don’t want help and unfortunately many of these girls have come from many generations of women who were pregnant as teens and they think it is OK.”
Teen pregnancy, homelessness, illiteracy – all of these are very real and interconnected issues for many girls in the Frayser community.
Pat Anderson is a board member for The Hagar Center and has seen these issues firsthand, having worked in Frayser schools and the community as a whole for more than 15 years. Anderson saw while visiting the schools that many girls would be unprepared for class and some would miss altogether because they were exhausted or couldn’t find a babysitter.
“I wanted to see some of these young girls fulfil their dreams, just because you have a baby doesn’t mean that your life is lost,” she said. “Now you have even more reason to be successful in life because you have a child to raise.”
She wants to emphasize the importance of education to the lives of these pregnant girls and their children.
“Imagine being 13, and needing to get federal assistance for your baby so you can go to school,” said Anderson. “Your mom can’t read and your grandma can’t read and you’re trying to fill out forms. You need someone to help get three or four sets of paperwork turned in.”
This is one area that The Hagar Center plans to begin assisting girls with immediately, making sure they receive all the support they need to build a good life for themselves and their babies.
Simpson wants more people in Memphis to be aware of the teen pregnancy issue.
“One person doesn’t have to do anything grand, but if a lot of people in our city started putting in a little effort, we could look back and say, ‘Wow, how’d we get here?’”
The grand opening of The Hagar Resource Center will be on Saturday, May 7, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 3124 Thomas St. in Frayser. Because the Center is going to be run by volunteers they are looking for anyone who could donate time or funds to Hagar. Visit thehagarcenter.org
to learn how to get involved.