SAN LEANDRO -- Seventeen-year-old Dianne Baviera looks forward to graduating in June and going to college to study criminal justice so she might one day investigate and solve crimes. Before then, there are bottles to fill, diapers to change and pediatrician's appointments to attend for her increasingly active little one, Arabella.
Baviera became a teen mother a year ago and is still learning what that means, all while keeping an eye on her aspirations.
"Being a single parent, you are like a superhero," she said. "Our life is way different from a regular teenager's life. We have to juggle so much. ... You need to put your happiness, what you need aside, and put your daughter, your kids first. Make sure you are being successful or you are on track, so they can have a good future."
Baviera is fortunate to have the help of her dad -- the person she was most afraid to tell she was pregnant. Arabella's father, an ex-boyfriend, has scheduled visits with the 1-year-old every other day and on weekends, she said.
One support she wasn't expecting to have is a new teen parenting group at Lincoln Continuation High School in San Leandro. It meets for two hours every Thursday afternoon.
Open to San Leandro Unified students who are pregnant or first-time parents, the group offers free child care while attendees receive lessons in health, wellness, career planning and child-rearing from case managers with the southern Alameda County nonprofit Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center. Teen Success Inc., another nonprofit group, provides the group's curriculum and funding, including a $10 per-meeting incentive for those attending.
"I know teen moms feel really alone. They feel depressed, 'cause I remember I was," Baviera said, adding that she is grateful "to have a group like this to help me go through it and give me advice on what I need to do, to know that it's not the end."
Jasmine Oliveira, 19, another group member, is raising her 1-year-old son, Joseph, with her boyfriend, Joseph's father.
"Some people misunderstand us and they judge us, how old we are and we have a baby," Oliveira said.
At each group session, the young mothers discuss the highs and lows of their week. On Dec. 12, Oliveira said that her low was getting sick with something she caught from her son. "My high is I finally turned my paperwork in" for Medi-Cal and welfare benefits, she said.
Still, even her high point wasn't achieved without difficulty. At her 7:30 a.m. visit to submit documents, Joseph began screaming and crying.
"He goes running and I'm like, 'No. It's too early for this,'" she told the group.
Dealing with her son's asthma and other issues also interrupt plans to do homework and get to the continuation school two days a week to complete the 50 credits she needs to graduate, she said.
"You've got to deal with him getting sick, hurting himself, doctor's appointments, having to stay in the hospital with him, make sure he has clothes, diapers, something to eat, his milk. It's all hard," Oliveira said.
The struggles aren't unfamiliar to case managers Maria Sanchez and Tiffany Thomas, who lead the Lincoln High group and a second teen parenting group held at the Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center office in Hayward.
Thomas is raising her nephew and "grew up around a time when there was that pregnancy epidemic, during the late '90s, early 2000s," she said. "A lot of my friends had babies when we were in high school, and I have seen the struggles and they didn't have these services that is supportive to the girls today."
Added Sanchez: "I was a teen parent, so I know exactly what they are feeling ... having a baby and having to care for that other child or another human before you care for yourself." She said she found support in a similar group when she was younger.
Teen birthrates in California have decreased from a high of 70.9 per 1,000 teens age 15 to 19 in 1991, to 28 births per 1,000 teens in 2011, according to data released by the state Department of Public Health last year. But for the 10 teens attending the San Leandro and Hayward groups this school year, and the 24 teens who attended last year's group in Hayward, the help can be valuable, leaders said.
"It can make a huge difference to have somebody on their side and sometimes we are their support," Sanchez said. "There is no other support outside."
Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro. Contact her at 510-926-6397. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.
To learn more about Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center Inc., call administrative assistant Martha Cuevas at 510-471-5880, ext. 3711.