From their website: “Promise House stands on the forefront of combating youth homelessness. We offer unique programs that cater to the specific audience of homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth; however, we impact a larger community through our continuum of services that address the vital needs essential to a promising future. All of our programs are free of charge to clients. At Promise House, we provide youth and their family members an opportunity for a brighter future filled with hope and promise.”
In October 2013, Humanity Moves initiated a pilot program with the teen moms at the Wesley Inn Program of Promise House. “The Wesley Inn Program guides homeless pregnant and parenting teen mothers to become healthy, independent and nurturing parents.” Since then, the program has been expanded and is open to all children–male or female– receiving shelter and services at the Promise House.
Let us see what the Promise House has to say about Humanity Moves!
“Promise House moves youth in crisis towards safety and success by offering temporary emergency shelter, long term housing and community based services to youth. By partnering with Humanity Moves, Promise House is able to offer our youth mindfulness, trauma sensitive yoga and expressive movement classes. Some studies have shown that up to 80 percent of the homeless youth population has experienced trauma. Humanity Moves understands how trauma can deteriorate the mind-body connection and how to restore a sense of safety in the present moment. They are fantastic at meeting our youth where they are and making sure that everyone feels comfortable in their classes, from having separate groups for men and women to creating a program specifically for our mothers to be. Their organization offers a unique and powerful benefit to some of the most underserved members of the community.”
– Zach Bartush, Promise House Volunteer & Community Resources Coordinator
Humanity Moves is deeply committed to the idea of combining mindfulness with movement arts to empower men, women and children of all ages in becoming agents of their own learning. We find this especially true when it comes to the education of young Latino and African-American teens who have been forced out of their homes due to abuse, trauma, or behavioral issues. Many of our local homeless teen girls also face additional challenges as single moms in the impoverished neighborhoods of Oak Cliff, Dallas. Often, these young mothers are the primary caretakers and influencing presence in the lives of the boys and girls they raise. Providing an opportunity for the teens to engage in mindful, somatic exercises extends the range of resources available for managing their mind/body wellness as they rehabilitate from the suffering and trauma that led to their homelessness in the first place.
As movement-arts educators, we are aware of the dangers involved in overstating or exaggerating claims pertaining to the long-term outcomes of a dance and yoga program for adolescents undergoing significant life changes. We do not pretend that a few hours of movement education will “fix” conditions, behaviors, and relationships that factor into the cycle of homelessness. Nor will a dance and yoga curriculum guarantee that the children of the teen moms will grow up in an environment free from the unhealthy situations that led to mothers’ homelessness in the first place.
Research on homeless adolescent mothers suggests that because of the oppressive conditions often present in these young girls’ lives prior to their first pregnancy (such as sexual, physical or emotional abuse by a parent or relative), entering motherhood can be seen as an opportunity to “reinvent themselves” (Hanna, 2001). For many young moms, the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth can be seen as an opportunity to change paths, to “shake off the past and to prove that they (are) valuable individuals as well as competent young mothers” (Meadows-Oliver, 2007).
Why expressive movement? The focus of our program is not solely on artistic technique. That is, our goal is not to teach pirouettes. The program has been designed to teach strategies and exercises that will improve the teen moms’ awareness of sensations and thoughts arising in their bodies so that they can begin to recognize the full range of human experience. This is important because the adolescent mothers are at a developmental age where their brains are undergoing structural changes in the “stressor-sensitive forebrain regions” (Spear, 2000) that may be linked to patterns of destructive behavior. In other words, if the stressors experienced in adolescence lead to choices involving drugs, alcohol, self-mutilation, aggression, and abuse, the brain will start to recognize these patterns of behavior as the new “normal”. Through embodied “problem-solving”, the adolescent mothers can begin to observe and describe what they are feeling without immediately resorting to destructive behavior. Labeling what the body is experiencing with a corresponding emotional or cognitive awareness is a marker of connection-making, something that will deepen a person’s self-reflection and self-expression. Considering that a homeless adolescent mother is still undergoing great physiological and neurological change herself, a program that offers tools to recognize some of these feelings and sensations can be hugely empowering for someone now wholly responsible for the needs of an infant.
Through embodied learning using yoga and dance, the young mothers will engage in a practice of inquiry where the knowledge they create emerges from their own awareness of the “complementary relationship of non-verbal and verbal experience as explicitly unfolded and reflected through their self-expression” (Koren, 2003). Movement experiences can be transformative for students of any age, but for this group of young women who may not have yet developed the language skills necessary to articulate complex emotions and relationships, a focus on the body can be a powerful entry point toward the re-invention they seek as young mothers.
Hanna, B. (2001). Negotiating motherhood: the struggles of teenage mothers. Journal of advanced nursing, 34(4), 456-464.
Koren, B. S. (2003). Movement experience (ME): A context of inquiry for professional development. The Humanistic Psychologist, 31(1), 43-73.
Meadows‐Oliver, M., Sadler, L. S., Swartz, M. K., & Ryan‐Krause, P. (2007). Sources of stress and support and maternal resources of homeless teenage mothers. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 20(2), 116-125.
Spear, L. P. (2000). Neurobehavioral changes in adolescence. Current directions in psychological science, 9(4), 111-114.