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Surviving family upheaval and a teen pregnancy, Lindsey Hinkley has prioritized her education and paved the way for her daughter’s success.

“I’m not really the person to mess with,” proclaims Lindsey Hinkley, who has survived more in her 21 years than many face in a lifetime. Born to two substance abusers in a home that was “constantly being raided for drugs,” Hinkley entered a relationship at age 11 and was pregnant by age 14. She has drawn on incredible inner strength and support from her community to thrive despite harrowing conditions.

A hard start

“I was scared,” says Hinkley of finding out she was pregnant as a ninth grader in Bath. That year, the state found Hinkley’s mother, who had raised her and her twin brother, unfit to care for them. Hinkley, her brother and older sister were forced to live with a father they barely knew.

When she discovered her pregnancy at five months in, she says, her father kicked her out of the house. Her sister didn’t want Hinkley to have the baby and made threats that terrified her. Afraid for her life and that of her unborn child, Hinkley dropped out of ninth grade and moved in with the father of her baby, who had also left school and was living with nine relatives in a three-bedroom house in Brunswick. Hinkley filled out the paperwork for legal emancipation and started life, soon to be a mother, with little support.

All for Addysen

Hinkley gave birth to her daughter, Addysen, on Jan. 30, 2012. She brought the baby home to what she describes as a chaotic home situation with the baby’s father and his family.

When Addysen was 8 months old, Hinkley refocused on her studies. “I really need my education,” Hinkley recalls thinking. At Brunswick High School, she was required to start ninth grade over again, and was treated “like a regular student, but I wasn’t. I had a baby, and I should have been in 10th grade at that point.” Addysen, meanwhile, remained at home with the baby’s father and his family. “There were 10–11 people in the house at any given time. I knew someone would take care of her.”

Focusing on class work was difficult for Hinkley. “I got in trouble a lot for being on my phone, but I was really checking in on Addysen,” she says. Her saving grace was a guidance counselor who introduced her to Willo Wright, founder of Seeds of Independence, who runs a group for teen parents in Brunswick. Wright introduced Hinkley to the owner of Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe, Rebecca Shepherd, who would become a vital resource for Hinkley in times of need. Soon, she had an internship at the Brunswick restaurant, which evolved into an after-school job three months later.

Hinkley chose to drop out of school in the spring of 2013 to focus on earning money. “I felt like, it was good that I had a job. I still had to pay rent.” But home life was tense and Hinkley no longer felt it was safe for herself and her daughter there. Those tensions boiled over in January of 2016, and Hinkley chose to leave. She secured her own apartment and quickly moved in. She also gained full custody of Addysen.

Passages

Through Willo Wright, Hinkley obtained a referral that changed her trajectory. While still residing in her boyfriend’s home, Hinkley entered Passages, an alternative high school program, approved by the state Department of Education, serving eight counties in Maine. Passages is specifically tailored to meet the practical and educational needs of teen parents, both male and female, who have not been able to graduate from high school by traditional means.

Martha Kempe, head of schools at Wayfinder Schools, of which the Passages program is a part, explains: “In our program, we go into their home, see them weekly, provide internet and a laptop. Because they are teen parents, they can feel extremely isolated. Establishing a face-to-face relationship with a teacher is crucial for them to make it through this exciting but also stressful time.”

Lindsey Hinkley was a ninth grader when she found out she was pregnant. As a young mom, she dropped out of school and struggled to find a place where she felt safe. With the help of Wayfinder Schools and the Passages program, Hinkley is creating a bright future for herself and her daughter. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

At-risk youth may need a wide variety of services to help them survive before they can thrive. Passages, Kempe notes, is “not a clinical placement. We guide and support. The students decide what they need. Part of the learning is helping students navigate their communities to find the resources they need.” Hinkley, who had already obtained legal emancipation from her father on her own, was a perfect candidate for a program that requires self-motivation.

“They were really comforting,” says Hinkley of Kempe and her team. “They made me really want to start.”

The program focuses on 24 core skills, including math, humanities, science, budgeting, life learning skills and early childhood development. Students are expected to complete homework and projects and are graded on a pass/fail scale. “I did coursework at 11 or 12 at night. It took three years [to graduate].” Along the way, Hinkley drew strength from a warm relationship with her teacher, Cindy Stevenson, with whom she is still close.

In 2016, Hinkley graduated, completing her 25th skill, or Passage, in cake baking. Working with local baker Patricia Moroz, Hinkley created a chocolate and orange marble, two-tiered cake adorned with gumpaste roses. Creating the roses was a new and exciting skill for Hinkley. “I made five gumpaste roses. Those took a lot of time, but I loved it. I hand-formed each one. I love flowers.” To complete each Passage, the graduate must present her project to her teacher, another student and Kempe.

“I was so nervous. I get really shy,” Hinkley says. She faced her fear and has since spoken publicly at two Passages fundraising events and is open to doing more.

At-risk youth in Maine

Recovery from eight years of trauma and a chaotic childhood doesn’t come easy. Hinkley was seeing a counselor for a brief time, but felt that she was not understood or heard. “They have this schooling. They try to tell you it’s OK. It’s not OK.” Addysen, now 6, is currently in counseling through Sweetser, and “seems to love it. The counselor comes to the school and offers summer programs.”

For young mothers and fathers in Maine, falling through the cracks is a risk. Individuals like Kempe, Wright and Stevenson are heading the charge to assist them. Others, like Shepherd and Hinkley’s guidance counselor at Brunswick High School, are picking up the slack, identifying and providing resources to teens whose traumas are deep and whose needs are varied.

According to Health and Human Services data from 2015, the birth rate per 1,000 females ages 15–19 in Maine was 15.3. While teen birth rates have plummeted since 2005, the rate of unmarried mothers in Maine remained stable at 9.7 percent from 2010–14.

Abuse statistics paint a bleaker picture. According to a 2012 article from The Portland Press Herald, “More than 6,000 Mainers—overwhelmingly women—requested [protection from abuse] orders last year to help protect them from potential violence in the heat of domestic conflict.”

Other data points to at-risk youth around every turn. In 2011, 77 children aged out of foster care placements into legal emancipation. As of 2013, 4,000 Maine teens ages 16–19 were not enrolled in school and were not working. That same year, 12 Maine children younger than 20 committed suicide.

Choices ahead

Today, Hinkley and Addysen live in Bath with Hinkley’s boyfriend, Jason. Addysen is a vibrant, energetic child, with whom Hinkley spends time in the outdoors, fishing, boating and exploring. She continues to work at Wild Oats Cafe as a chef, and is contemplating her future. “I know I want to cook. I want to cook and I want to bake. I’ve had other job offers, for up to $15 an hour, but I love Wild Oats. My boss helped me to be where I am. She’s a really important part of my life.”

When asked how she managed to pull herself out of circumstances that shatter so many others, Hinkley says “I learned from my parents what not to do. Addysen’s education is my motivator. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where I’d be.”

QUOTES FROM PASSAGES STUDENTS

“I’m so thankful for my experience with this school. I have so much more in life to look forward to now, and my options are endless. My son now has a mother he can be proud of, I can now say that I have a high school diploma, and that I never gave up.”
—Desiree, Class of 2017

“Now I am able to graduate. I’m able to go to college. Passages has helped me make a future for me and my daughter.”
—Kayla, Class of 2014

“For me, Passages wasn’t about the papers you have to write or the outings you have to go on; it was about finding who I am and all that I am capable of. For the first time in my whole life I like myself, I’m proud of how far I’ve come and I am happy with the woman I’m becoming.”
—Erika, Class of 2013

THE WORK OF WAYFINDER SCHOOLS

Wayfinder Schools provides services to youth ages 14 to 20 who live in eight counties:  Androscoggin, Cumberland, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Waldo, Washington and York Counties.

Passages is a home-based program for teen parents and other youth who have struggled in traditional high school and are at risk of dropping out.

Statistically, only 40 percent of all teen mothers finish high school and fewer than 2 percent finish college by age 30. Passages graduates 67 percent of teen mothers within the same years as their peers, and 70 percent of those go on to some technical training and/or college within the next two years after graduation.

Most students live at or near the poverty line. Wayfinder programs are free to students.

Curriculum includes basic academics and parenting and life skills training that is necessary as a young parent.

Teachers oftentimes become the first advocate for the teen parent and their child in securing the services needed to successfully transition into adulthood and/or getting the educational, medical, social and housing services the student or child may need.

For more information about Wayfinder Schools, visit wayfinderschools.org.

To make a donation to Wayfinder Schools or the Passages program, visit
wayfinderschools.org/contribute/donate.

Chelsea Terris Scott writes plays and short stories and is a freelance journalist. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland.

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