By RUTH LILJENQUIST
At 19 years old, Chantel Morago is on the path to a successful, independent life. She’s about to graduate from high school, she’s completing an internship at the City Council Office, and she’s got her eye set on a career in criminal justice. On top of that, she’s living on her own and parenting her thriving 3-year-old daughter, Sheliona.
Four years ago, however, Chantel was on the path to nowhere good. She had dropped out of school. She was into drugs and alcohol. She’d run away from yet another group home and had returned to her mother’s problematic household. And she was pregnant.
The turning point came when her mother was incarcerated, and Chantel, seven months pregnant, was placed by Child Protective Services at Merilac Lodge, a group home for pregnant and parenting teens run by Catholic Social Service, an agency of Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona.
“I didn’t want to be there, but they told me that if I ran away I would lose my child,” said Chantel.
The desire to keep her child became a motivation for Chantel to change her life. And with the support and resources of Merilac Lodge, she did, though it wasn’t always easy.
Chantel was required to return to school and participate in Merilac’s parenting, life skills, and exercise classes. Over time, she learned how to take care of her own health, set goals for herself, cook and clean, get around town, and manage her time.
Chantel found the support she needed from Merilac Lodge’s staff members, especially director Sister Mary Ann Bogosoff. “Sister Mary Ann was very caring, but she also pushed me to do more and gave me words of encouragement. I love that lady.”
One of the most valuable things Chantel learned was how to care for her daughter. “All babies do is cry, and that can make you frustrated. I learned how to understand my daughter and meet her needs.”
Chantel also learned about fostering her child’s mental development, giving her child proper nutrition, and handling illnesses or other challenges. These lessons, along with the many others she learned at Merilac Lodge, have come in handy since she left Merilac at age 18, and went to live independently at Casa de Crianza, Catholic Social Service’s residence for young women over 18 years of age and their babies.
“In my life now, I am using so many of the things I learned at Merilac,” said Chantel.
Being a young mother is a challenge, but motherhood has changed the way Chantel thinks—and for the better.
“It matured me. It made me see things from a whole different perspective. I had to rethink all my actions and ask myself, ‘How is this going to benefit me or my daughter?’”
Chantel wants to set a good example for her daughter. “She’s looking up to me and sees that what I’m doing—working, going to school, making wise choices—is good.”
Chantel credits her time at Merilac Lodge as the turning point in her life. “I’m really glad I was there.”