“The Alliance of Moms' mission is to break the intergenerational cycle of babes born to teens in foster care and in my family my brother and I are the breaking of that cycle,” shares Jules Leyser, co-president of the non-profit. Her own mother grew up in residential foster care in the UK and was long-term fostered by the woman Jules knew as grandma.
“My mum experienced an incredible amount of abuse and trauma throughout her childhood,” the activist explains. She had her first child, Jules’ brother at 17 and gave birth to Jules two years later. “In many ways she got lucky,” she says,“because my dad was a teacher and showed her a whole different world with opportunities she otherwise wouldn't have known.”
Jules, now 44, hasn’t strayed too far from her beginnings. She broke the cycle of teen pregnancy, giving birth to her first child at 39. And as co-president of The Alliance of Moms, an organization founded with Yasmine Delawari Johnson, who began working with kids in the foster care system when pregnant with her now 7 year old, her day-to-day is spent helping young moms and kids in foster care.
Almost seven years ago, while pregnant with her son, Yasmine started volunteering at the Alliance for Children’s Rights. Later, when pregnant with her daughter, Malala, she joined their Board. Looking to do more, the “dear friends,” hosted a fundraiser in Yasmine’s backyard to support pregnant and parenting teens in foster care. But they knew they could be more hands-on. From those backyard conversations and volunteered hours, The Alliance of Moms was born. It is a membership-based auxiliary of the Alliance for Children’s Rights.
Two years ago they were a group of five moms. Today, they have 500 members and are growing.
Yasmine admits that the last two years have been some of her most fulfilling, but equally difficult. Coming from a place of integrity and intention has helped the co-presidents through. But that meant they really had to hone in on their mission. Around the 6 month mark they took a few days to nail it down. “As a start-up nonprofit,” says Jules, “we simply couldn't do everything and we were getting generous offers for things like doing hair for our girls and makeovers, but we knew that wasn’t what were were giving up time away from our own families to do.” Education with a focus on early brain development became an integral piece of the Alliance. With 80% of the brain developed by age 3, Yasmine and Jules knew that “if our girls' babies could start pre-school on track with other kids then they had a better chance of doing well and not falling behind and therefore they would hopefully avoid becoming teen parents themselves.”
The full time volunteers recognize the challenges. “It is easy,” says Yasmine, “to be completely caught in the wheel of day-to-day demands of the business part of our organization and feel like you don't have time to pause. But like anything in life, you must make that time. It is in that space that you can grow with authenticity, grace and clarity.”
It’s with the aforementioned grace that Yasmine and Jules are dedicated to the commonalities, not differences, amongst mothers. “Luck and geography can make our lives seem very different, and in some ways our lives may be very different, but we all want our kids to feel safe. We want them to be healthy and educated. We want them to have opportunities and know their value. Many of our young mothers in foster care have come from such traumatic histories that they may have never experienced any of these things themselves, but if you ask them what they want for their kids, their answers are the same,” says Yasmine.
“We aren't social workers or any authority figure who has power over them and their babies. We are just moms who know how challenging parenting can be even in the best of circumstances,” says Jules.“They've been let down and often abandoned many times in their lives so it’s important that our community of moms consistently wraps our arms around them.”
At the time we talk, the pair is in “deep strategic planning” about what comes next. They want to deepen their relationships with teen moms, well aware that in order to have the kind of impact they want they have to focus beyond how many girls they can reach, but “how often we can reach the same girls.” They also want to expand outside of Los Angeles within the next five years.
As full time volunteers, the realities of dedicating their day-to-day to a cause can be exhausting. And to do so with "grace," Yasmine shares is probably the hardest, but most important part. But the mom of two insists that you do the work, especially when you don’t feel like doing it. “In my mind, I am still the high school student cramming for the test, and yet nothing in my life today actually reflects that. It's funny how we hold onto these ideas about ourselves. I rarely feel like doing the hard work, but I just sit down and do it.”
Adding, “I am in a very fortunate position where I do not need to work to help support our family. I work because it is important for me to model for my children a mother who is dedicated and passionate, and I work to try to do my part in our world. I don't look at my work as a career path as much as a life path. In that sense, I don't ever see myself not working. There will always be ways to engage and give back.”
Quitting is not an option for either. "Understandably there is a self-esteem epidemic amongst our teen moms and although it is hard to quantify," says Jules, "I believe that our alliance makes the girls feel seen and important in ways that are not typical in their everyday lives."
Together, they’ve launched a parenting movement with the hopes of shattering every current statistic about teen moms, their babies, and foster care.