June 17, 2013

For Waterville teenagers, a helping hand with growing up, being a dad

The two young men are the first males in 39 years to graduate from TeenParent School.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Teenage parents Melinda Pooler, 17, pauses while reading a textbook and working on a computer as Chris Bilodeau, 18, holds their 2-month-old daughter, Abigale, at their home in Waterville on Thursday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Kevin Hardy is one of two males to graduate from the Teen Parent School program at the Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers in Waterville. With him is his infant daughter, Zoey, and fiancee, Wendy Joler, at Hardy's mother's Winslow residence on Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additional Photos Below

In order to accommodate the new dads, Woodhead had to tinker with the schedule a bit. She expanded "Teen Mom Pampering Day," usually consisting of hair and cosmetic makeovers, to include the male equivalent — some uninterrupted video game time.

Working and living

In Woodhead's office, Hardy reclined with such a relaxed posture that at times it seemed as though he might sink through the bottom of his easy chair. He spoke from beneath the brim of his baseball cap with a faint smile and a tone of irony, as if he wanted to express feelings of love and tenderness but couldn't quite shake the sarcastic teen attitude of his peers.

Before Hardy's 19-year-old girlfriend, Wendy Joler, got pregnant with their now-5-month-old daughter, Zoey, he said his life was a lot like Bilodeau's.

"I would play video games and sports all the time. I didn't care," he said. "I would jump off bridges, do stupid stuff."

When Joler told Hardy she was pregnant, the news put a sudden financial strain on a teenager with no car and no job.

Within days, he was applying to the Hannaford grocery chain, Goodwill, Subway, J&S Oil and McDonald's — anyone he thought might hire him.

Hardy now spends about an hour a day walking more than three miles to get from his Winslow apartment to his new employer — Walmart, in Waterville.

As a student by day and a cashier by night, Hardy made $7.90 an hour, or about $300 every two weeks, $60 of which he gave to his mother for rent in the apartment they share. Graduating freed him to work more hours, and he expects a scheduled raise to $8.30 an hour will allow him to gross about $14,300 per year, still significantly below the poverty rate of $17,600 for a family of three in Maine.

Hardy and Joler are helped by public assistance in the form of state-subsidized health care and federal food assistance programs. Their mothers also help by looking after Zoey sometimes.

Bilodeau's financial situation is even worse.

The day after Pooler walked into his room and told him she was pregnant, the two tried to map out a plan for the future.

As a result of that conversation, like Hardy, he was driven to seek a low-paying job immediately, partly to demonstrate he could be a provider.

Today he works at McDonald's, where, at $7.65 an hour, he said he can work enough hours to earn about $12,700 per year.

Bilodeau's mother has moved out of the area, so he has moved in with Pooler's parents, who are in a subsidized housing program. Like Hardy, he contributes to the rent.

Parental challenges

The underlying motivations that spark the interactions between Bilodeau and Hardy and their girlfriends will be familiar to older parents, but they sometimes express themselves in ways that are characteristic of youth.

A month ago, Pooler said, she stole Bilodeau's video games and hid them to make him help around the house more.

He responded by buying a new game.

For a while, Pooler said, she was afraid he would leave her, driven away by the stress of uncertainty about their future. She's gotten more secure as she's watched Bilodeau grow into his role as father and provider.

On Thursday, she complained about getting up in the middle of the night to take care of their daughter, Abigale, an example of the companionable bickering that allows them to air their complaints without it turning into a brawl.

"He don't have that problem, because he sleeps through her crying and stuff," she said. "He doesn't get up to feed her. I do it all."

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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Kevin Hardy with his infant daughter, Zoey, on Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans


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