‘No judgement. Our ministry is no strings attached’
A Centralia native is making her mark helping others.
Julie Grace Yokum, CHS class of 1990 was back in Centralia to discuss a nonprofit that helps teen mothers she and a friend founded 2006 at the Buckner United Methodist Church.
She and a friend founded the Kansas City-area organization in 2006 after she, her mother the late Cathi grace, and some friends attended a woman’s conference on heritage and legacy.
“We came away inspired,” she said to her audience of 15 members of the Centralia Kiwanis Club. “As working moms our kids were our legacies, right?”
On the drive home, however, Yokum’s perspective was changed when one of her friends, Ann, a teacher told her how six of her students in her senior English class became pregnant and four did not return to school after their babies were born. “I related to her heartbreak because though I was not a teen mom., my best friend was. I knew the feelings of frustration and hopelessness those moms and those babies were probably feeling.”
She remembers spontaneously responding to her friend’s story.
“We should do something, maybe this could be our legacy.”
Looking for inspiration, they found some in a scripture: “Two are better than one, for their have great reward for their labor.” Ecclesiastes 4:9.
She said it helped them empathize with how Ann was struggling to help, but by herself, could not. “But if you put the two of us together we would have great reward for our labor.”
That was the genesis of “Baby Grace,” a church-based nonprofit devoted to assisting teenaged mothers.
Its mission, Yocum said, is: “To share God’s love and grace by offering material, emotional, and spiritual support and development for families with young children.”
She described the organization’s goals, elaborated upon on the group’s website. “Basic, free necessities for children as an outward sign of God’s grace for all, providing families with, resources available to them in their community, and the knowledge that a group of volunteers is praying for them and their child. Educational and growth opportunities and scholarships. Christian-based activities for young parents and their children.”
She said another aspect was wanting teen moms to know they were not alone.
The new organization performed its first outreach January 2007 at the Fort Osage School District when they met with, and gave care packages to teen mothers at a Parents as Teachers meeting.
“We were surprised,” she said, reflecting on the organization’s growth, “that other churches wanted to do it too.”
From there, Yocum said, the Baby Grace effort has grown to 20 locations across Missouri. Each location operates differently depending on the needs and resources of the host church’s community, Yocum said. “But they all serve a common purpose, which is to serve grace with those families with children ages 0 to 5”
Part of the reason they have grown she said, might be linked to how they operate.
“No judgement. Our ministry is no strings attached. There’s no judgement, so we don’t question those circumstances under which those children entered the world. We believe God entered them into this world under his doing and he received them equally and so should we. With that mantra, we believe it helps our growth, but at the end of the day one of the reasons for that growth is need.”
Yocum shared some details of that need. She said the type of families Baby Grace serves are those living in poverty, “Those children did not chose to be born into poverty,” she said, discussing federal poverty guidelines, and how parents can be above that level, until they have a child, causing them to fall below the federal definition, 10 percent of the Kansas City-are population lives at or below.
“…When you are a child born into that situation, you don’t choose whether you can have clean diapers and clothes, and toys. The kids don’t choose their situations, none of us did.”
The definition of a living wage, she said, is a theoretical income level that allows individuals or families to afford adequate shelter, food, or other necessities. The goal of that wage, is to allow employees to earn enough income for a satisfactory standard of living and prevent them from falling into poverty.
Meanwhile, she said, famies are re-using diapers because they do not have enough money to afford new diapers. “And who suffers for that,” she said, “the babies. Diaper need has been shown to be more stressful than food need.”
Drives to help food pantries are great Yocum said. “But how often at a food pantry do you see a shelf of diapers and wipes. And there is no almost no form of government assistance that covers them. And again, who pays for that, who suffers for that, the baby.”
Besides material assistance, she said Baby Grace tries to find ways to help the families feel a sense of belonging, of community, instead of being ostracized for being poor. Besides social events such as hay-rides and summer camps, that often includes, she said, finding scholarships to help some teen mothers complete school.
The Baby Grace programs are all based in area churches, she said, and the foundation exists to help support them, especially those programs which might not have as access to community resources as some of the larger, more well-funded programs.
That help, she said, reminding her audience that the babies did not ask to be born into poverty and the decisions that led them there were not their, enabled many of them to grow into healthy, happy, productive members of society. “And it’s because they were shown a little bit of grace.”
It is a message of grace. When you see families, you never know what circumstance they are living under. You don’t know what kind of situation that child is facing at home, but God does. And God calls us to be his hands and feet for him.”