Monday, June 13, 2005

Police dispatcher provides home and hard-earned lessons to teen mothers

From Napa Valley Register / June 13, 2005

By MARSHA DORGAN / Register Staff Writer

Everyone can use a hug every so often. But if you are a young, homeless or a single mom, it takes a lot more than just a hug to get by.

That's where Lorraine Hargrave comes in.

Hargrave, 39, is one busy woman. The Napa police dispatcher not only puts in a 40-hour work week, she also is the founder of the Suisun City-based Children in Need of a Hug program. Hargrave launched CINOH in 2002. Three years later, as executive director of CINOH, she provides housing for three young women, all under 21, and their children.

Hargrave is no stranger to the perils and hardships of being a single teen mom. She had her first baby at 15, and for awhile she and her children were homeless. She is also a survivor of sexual abuse by a family member, as well as domestic violence.

"I've been there, done that. I wasn't a bad kid. I never did drugs, and I graduated from high school. I just liked boys," Hargrave said.

"These moms are in that same gap. They're out there and don't know where to go for help. Many of them have been sexually assaulted and have been victims of domestic violence and they are homeless. They are afraid to report what has happened to them. They don't want their boyfriends to go to jail. Or they are embarrassed or just plain scared. I call them my silent victims."

Hargrave has her own home in Suisun City. She has also rented a house nearby where the three young women and their children live for free.

But, it's not a free ride. She runs a tight ship, and the women must abide by the rules or find another place to call home.

"I have rules and regulations. The women are expected to learn to cook, budget their money and keep the place clean," she said. "I have a curfew. The women must participate in parenting classes and be alcohol- and drug-free."

It doesn't stop there.

The moms under 18 are required to attend school and get a diploma or their GED. Anyone over 18 must find a job and learn to support themselves and their offspring.

"I will not allow them to just sit around and collect their welfare," Hargrave said. "That's totally unacceptable. The goal of CINOH is have these moms get an education, find work, learn to be self-sufficient and get off the welfare."

Jessica Roberts, 17, and her 1-year-old son have been living at the CINOH house for four months.

"Before I came here, I was struggling. My baby and I were staying in a motel. My aunt gave my telephone number to Lorraine. When she had an opening, I was able to move in," Roberts said. "It's been a lifesaver for me. I am back in school and will graduate next year. I have a summer job at Mervyn's. There is no more negativity in my life. I'm in a good environment. My son and I are no longer exposed to drugs and other negative things. I don't know where I would be now if it wasn't for Lorraine."

Hargrave visits the women every day. She works the graveyard shift at the Napa police dispatch center. A housemother takes over the night shift at the women's home.

Usually, the women can spend up to 18 months at the CINOH home. However, if they are making progress, following the rules, but are not quite ready to go out into the world on their own, Hargrave will allow them to stay longer. Hargrave helps the young moms create resumes, find employment and has paid for child care for a few.

So far, she has had 17 come through CINOH. Unfortunately, the success rate is not that high, Hargrave admits.

"One of my moms has got her nursing certificate. One has graduated from high school, and another one is just about ready to graduate," she said. "Even though there has not been a record-setting success rate, the moms and their kids that have come and gone have had a safe place to live. It kept them from living on the streets."

Some of the women just can't cut the mustard, Hargrave said. "They can't adjust to the rules. They don't want to be home by 10 p.m. They can't take the structured environment. For many, they have been on their own for some time and want to live by their own rules," she said. "And we have had some girls who just want a place to flop for a while."Hargrave doesn't let up on the women. "

(They) cannot get pregnant while they are in the program. We talk about birth control a lot. I tell them we are working on getting them back on their feet. They certainly don't need to make matters worse by bringing another baby into the world," she said.

Napa Police Cmdr. Steve Potter touts Hargrave's dedication and passion.

"Lorraine does an excellent job for us. I have a lot of respect for her for her community involvement. She has a high stress job. It can get crazy at the dispatch center. With that stress, being a caring person can be a challenge," Potter said.

Having a house full of kids is nothing new for Hargrave. She is the mother of a six children, 23, 19, 15, 14, 5, and 1 -- four of them still at home.

School of hard knocks

Hargrave didn't learn how to help the less fortunate from books or in the classroom. Life has been her teacher. "My life got crazy when I was 12 and living with my mom in San Francisco. At 14, I discovered boys. I was running away and got pregnant at 15. I went back home to live with my mother. I kept the baby," she said.

It probably wasn't a good move to live with her mother. Hargrave said during this time she was sexually assaulted by a family member. After telling a counselor, she was placed in a foster home.

"I was 16 with a baby and going to high school. ... I was with other teen moms. It was a good place, but when I turned 18, I was turned out onto the streets," she said. "I was totally unprepared to live on my own."

Hargrave found herself homeless with a toddler. She managed to find housing at a rundown hotel in San Francisco.

"It was awful. I has to share the kitchen and bathroom. The place was full of roaches, mice and other creatures," she said. "I lived like that for about a year."

But Hargrave's determination to make a better life for her and her children prevailed.

She got a clerical job and her own apartment.

But the downhill spiral didn't stop there. She married the father of her second child and soon found herself in an abusive marriage.

"When he finally went to prison for a crime I can't even remember now, I was not longer afraid of him and filed for divorce," she said.

A counselor who helped Hargrave when she lived in the foster home encouraged her to apply for a San Francisco police dispatcher job.

"I was no stranger to the police. I called them to my house enough times when my husband would beat me up," she said. "I didn't think they would hire me."

But she was wrong. She joined the San Francisco police dispatch in 1989. Having a good-paying job enabled Hargrave to save enough money to buy a house in 1996 in Suisun City. She soon tired of the commute from her home to San Francisco. Hargrave was hired by Napa police dispatch in January 2001.

Hargrave is the main breadwinner when it comes to funding CINOH. "I pay for most of the expenses, including the rent on the home where the girls live, with my dispatcher salary. I get some private donations, but not much," she said. "It's hard to get grant money when you are only supporting three people. There have been a few times that I thought we would go belly up, but something has always come through."

Donations for CINOH may be sent to 274E Sunset Ave., No. 221, Suisun City, 94558.

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