“One of the things I’ve discovered in working with young moms and dads is that they are often in desperate need of safe, affordable housing, particularly after they graduate from high school,” says Deborah Byrd, professor of English.
Since 2005, Byrd has been involved with the Family and Development Research Program (FDRP), which provides mentoring for pregnant and parenting teens at Easton Area High School. Though securing housing after graduation can be very difficult for many teenage parents, Byrd says they will often avoid using shelters due to the constraints they impose, such as curfews and control of earnings. As a result, the young parents will frequently remain in undesirable living situations rather than make use of shelters.
In an effort to counteract this problem, Byrd and research assistant Kristin Anderson ’14 (Newburgh, N.Y.) have been working with Terry Roman, executive director of the Easton Area Neighborhood Center, to meet with teenaged moms and dads from FDRP and find out how to create shelters that would better suit their needs.
“Basically, what Kristin and I have been doing is interviewing a lot of young parents–mostly moms, but there are some dads in the program, too,” Byrd says. “The goals are to find out what kinds of programs, rules, and regulations would be absolutely intolerable and would keep them from using a shelter, which ones would be acceptable, and which ones would be ideal, and why.”
“In a tangible way,” Byrd says, “it could result in the creation of a housing facility that would be well-suited to the needs of these parents and that they would actually use.”
Anderson has played a large role not only in working with the young parents, but in analyzing the results of the qualitative survey Byrd created to glean the parents’ opinions. A psychology major, Anderson uses her statistical knowhow to determine which features–like parenting and nutrition classes, transportation to daycare, or help with financial aid–the parents would find most helpful.
“On one hand, I’m getting a lot of experience with statistical methods that I’ll be using for research in my psych major,” says Anderson. “But it’s also really awesome working one-on-one and getting to meet these young parents, and really being able to make a difference.”
A member of Pi Beta Phi sorority and a volunteer with the Landis Community Outreach Center, Anderson plans to pursue graduate school and a career in social services–an ambition to which this experience has given rise.
“It’s been really great working with a non-profit so closely,” Anderson says. “You can see how much these services really make a difference in people’s lives.”
Anderson’s research was funded through the EXCEL Scholars undergraduate research program. EXCEL students earn a stipend while working one-on-one or in small groups with faculty. Many projects result in conference presentations and publication in peer-reviewed journals.