Iridian Sanchez Moran credits her “second mom” at the Atlantic Street Center and tries to give others the same encouragement: "I'm not here to judge them, I'm just here to support them," she says.

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Isiah Anderson Jr. had a seemingly simple exercise for a dozen young parents gathered one Tuesday evening in Rainier Beach. Say your name and your age. That’s it.

It wasn’t simple. The teens and twenty-somethings mumbled. They looked down. They shrugged.

Anderson, a guest speaker at a weekly support group for teen parents at the Atlantic Street Center, made them try again. And again.

The Atlantic Street Center

This Rainier Valley-based organization serves primarily low-income families of color with a teen-parent program, mental-health counseling, ESL classes and more.

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“As parents, you are the spokesperson for your children,” said Anderson, who runs youth-theater and recreation programs for the city of Seattle. “You don’t want teachers to talk to you like you’re one of the kids. You have to have a voice.”

It’s a challenge for these young men and women who had children at 16, 15, 14, even 12. Indeed, it’s a challenge for the entire population served by the organization — primarily low-income families of color.

The century-old Atlantic Street Center, one of 12 agencies that benefit from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, seeks to help with programs for people of all ages. Serving more than 3,000 people a year, it offers mental-health counseling, English as a Second Language classes, a free baby shop, distribution of thousands of diapers every year, home visits to new parents and more.

Private donations account for 18 percent of the organization’s $3.8 million annual budget, according to Executive Director Edith Elion. Some programs, such as the one for teen parents, rely on such donations for as much as half their funding.

The agency dropped a support group for grandparents raising children a few years ago for lack of money. It is now trying to ramp up the group again.

The teen-parent program is also venturing into new territory: working in a concentrated way with young fathers. Explained Elion: “They need housing. They need jobs. They need basic resources. Some may need baby formula, just like the young women do.”

Anderson, 51 and a one-time single dad, came that Tuesday night as part of that effort. “I applaud these fathers for being here,” he said of the three men in the room.

Also there was Iridian Sanchez Moran, 21. She has been coming since she was 16, at that time with her 1-year-old son. “No matter where I was, I always went to group,” she said. “It was the place I felt safe.”

Nowadays, she’s working for Atlantic Street Center herself, in the home-visiting program. She’s also married, living with her husband in a new apartment in Tacoma.

Your dollars at work

Samples of what The Atlantic Street Center can do with your donation:

$25: Pays for a one-week supply of baby formula.

$50: Provides a month of bus fare for a teen parent to get to school or work.

$100: Provides a weekly, hot meal for teens and their babies participating in support group sessions.

For information: atlanticstreet.org

“I just feel happy with who I am now,” she said. “I want to be a role model.”

“I’m in their corner”

She comes Tuesday nights mostly to help Michelle Mitchell-Brannon, the teen-parent program coordinator considered by many of the kids she works with to be a second mom.

On this night, when young parents began to falter as they spoke, Mitchell-Brannon moved behind them and put her hands on their shoulders. Periodically, she would get a text from someone in the room and step out for a private conversation.

There was a need for size 6 diapers, but the Atlantic Street Center was out, and so she planned to stop by Safeway after the meeting, buy diapers and drop them off at a home or two. It was two days before Thanksgiving, and she had already delivered several donated turkeys.

It’s a measure of how much Mitchell-Brannon means to Sanchez Moran that the young woman says one of the blessings of having her son is that he brought the teen-parent coordinator into her life. Mitchell-Brannon, she said, “has been a life change for my whole family.”

They met when Sanchez Moran was going to South Lake High School, determined to do well in school despite looking after a toddler. Born in Mexico and only a few years in the U.S., she felt like she was the only one in this country to get pregnant so young.

But Mitchell-Brannon revealed, as she does to all the young parents in her life, that she had given birth to twins at 14. Rejected by her family, she ended up homeless, riding the bus all night with her kids to keep warm.

Eventually, a federal housing voucher put her on the road to stability, a job at her children’s school and the work she is doing now. “I’m able to tell these young ladies I’m in their corner,” she said. “I never want them to feel the way I felt.”

One day soon after Sanchez Moran started in Mitchell-Brannon’s program, the young woman took the older one aside. Sanchez Moran confided that her momhad lost her job as a baby-sitter and they couldn’t afford their apartment anymore.

Mitchell-Brannon kicked into high gear trying to find the family a place to live. She landed Sanchez Moran a spot at the Aridell Mitchell Home, a transitional residence for teen parents. But Sanchez Moran’s mom couldn’t come and had to go to a women’s shelter.

Sanchez Moran, who relied heavily on her mom for support, was devastated.

“I promised her I was going to bring her family together,” Mitchell-Brannon recalled. And she did. The family was reunited in transitional housing run by the nonprofit Hopelink.

Showing others the way

The first Christmas they were in the Hopelink housing, Richard Sherman paid a visit bearing gifts, including a laptop. The then Seahawks rookie had told Atlantic Street Center officials that he wanted to “adopt” a straight-A student for Christmas. Sanchez Moran fit the bill.

Despite looking after a young child, dealing with homelessness and sometimes taking three buses to get to school, Sanchez Moran excelled in high school and went on to Bellevue College. Due largely to financial issues, she’s now taking a break from school while working for the Atlantic Street Center.

On a recent day, she drove to Esther Limas’ apartment to deliver a children’s doctor’s play kit to Limas’ 2-year-old, Keila. Speaking in Spanish, Sanchez Moran encouraged Keila and her mom to play with the kit together.

“That’s what we want to see, the mom engaging with the kid,” Sanchez Moran explained. The program is designed to teach parenting skills, as well as to provide educational toys and books.

Sanchez Moran noted that she is younger than Limas, 30, but doesn’t see herself as superior to this or any other client. “I’m not here to judge them,” she said. “I’m just here to support them.”