Teen mom faces stark choice
While the rest of society is worrying about their delayed camping plans due to the government shutdown, 18-year-old Morgan Cowart is worrying about supporting her two children and having enough gas to get to school.
Cowart was focused on schoolwork at the Alternative Learning Center until she learned that she would not receive her $272 Work First check this month due to the government shutdown that occurred Oct. 1. Now, she is stressing about how to get to school.
“I depend on it,” Cowart said about her check, adding that her mom pays the bills with her disability checks. “It puts gas in the car so I can get back and forth and it puts diapers on my babies’ behinds. I don't know what I'm going to do without it.”
Each day, Cowart drops off her children at the ALC daycare and takes courses while still finding time to work as a receptionist through the Work First program. The program pays Cowart monthly checks for working 87 hours each month in the ALC office.
Cowart lives with her sick mother in Waynesville and is currently raising two toddlers, Hunter, who is 2, and 1-year-old McKenzie. She admits to having a troubled past, but is currently trying to turn her life around while attending ALC.
Cowart is on her own raising the children.
“Neither of their dads are in the picture — they walked out,” she said. “I tried to get child support, but one of them, his name wasn’t on the birth certificate, and the other one is in prison.”
Cowart was expecting her check to come in Oct. 9, but instead she received a call notifying her that it was on hold.
“The only real option I have is to not come to school,” Cowart said. “When it comes down to it, if I had to choose diapers or school, I'm going to choose diapers.”
Cowart said she knew other single moms in the Work First program who also would be struggling without a check this month.
“It feels like I've been knocked down two notches and I’m going to have to push myself to go forward again. I'm just glad I have somebody besides my mom here to support me — I have the school.”
Caroline Williamson, coordinator of ALC, said Cowart was a diligent worker who had proven to be dependable since her arrival to the school in April.
“She is one of the few students who have jumped in and taken full responsibility for herself and her work as a school receptionist,” Williamson said.
Cowart is getting settled at ALC after bouncing back and forth between three different schools. After having her son at age 16 and her daughter at age 17, she said it had been difficult to balance motherhood and schoolwork. Now at ALC, she said she feels motivated to graduate.
“I don't see how other mothers say it’s hard — if you have a daycare to support you, I don't see how you can't get out of bed and go to school,” Cowart said. “I just feel like some mothers out there don't want to do it because they don't have the support and headstrong ability. I’m forcing myself to do it to better my kids’ lives; I want to be a role model for them. That way I can say, ‘Yeah I did drop out, but look at me now babies.’”
Cowart used to live with her father in Franklin, but described the experience as a “bad living situation.” She now lives with her mother, who has been as supportive as she can while she’s at home battling cancer.
“I have to say I have a strong backbone,” Cowart said. “It takes a lot to break me down and I think that’s because what I’ve seen my mom have to go through.”
Cowart credits a lot of the staff at ALC for inspiring her to do better.
“The school has helped me out a lot, and showed me that there’s an alternate way to go in life,” Cowart said. “Even though you drop out, you can start over if you really want it.”
Cowart is exploring career options such as nursing, cosmetology or veterinary medicine.
“I always told myself if I dropped out I'd come back, so I feel like I'm doing good,” she said.
Cowart anticipates having to pinch a few more pennies this month to make ends meet, but she is also worried about losing her children’s spots in the Southwestern Child Development daycare.
She said the daycare classes were always full.
“As long as I can bring my kids in twice a week, I won't lose my spots at the day care,” Cowart said.
Shelia Hoyle, with the Southwestern Child Development Commission, said the state subsidy program for the daycare might also be an issue for ALC students. She said the subsidies could be affected by the government shutdown, which might prevent future children in daycare.
The subsidized childcare uses federal funds from a Community Development Block Grant, which may be on hold with the shutdown in place, Hoyle said.
“Right now we are in a holding pattern,” Hoyle said. “We are continuing services until we get a final word from out funder in Raleigh. We are talking with them daily to find out the impact on subsidized childcare.”