Sunday, May 27, 2007

Former teenage mother creates organization: Chicks in Crisis


Photo from Sacramento Bee by Anne Chadwick Williams
Taking care of her 'girls:' Inez Whitlow, founder of Chicks in Crisis, does whatever it takes to help pregnant women in need

Hubert, Cynthia. Sacramento Bee, May 25, 2006, pg. J1.

A ringing phone in the middle of the night jars Inez Whitlow awake.

"The contractions are hurting really bad," says a desperate voice on the hotline.

Within minutes, Whitlow is dressed and behind the wheel of her blue Ford Expedition, peeling out of her Elk Grove cul-de-sac and heading for the hospital. Heading out to hold the hand of "one of my girls," as she calls them.

The "girls" are almost universally scared, confused and unprepared for motherhood, not unlike Whitlow herself when she was young and pregnant.

For the past 10 years, Whitlow and her nonprofit group Chicks in Crisis have been shepherding these women through their unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

Some of her clients are suburban teenagers. Some are older women in jail or prison. Some are homeless drug addicts. Whitlow's mission is to do everything possible to make sure they deliver healthy babies, and help them map out futures for their children.

On some days, that means hauling cans of food and other supplies to pregnant women who live in shelters, ramshackle houses or along the river. On others, it means taking them to medical appointments and court dates. Whitlow's car is packed with Huggies and baby wipes and blankets, just in case she encounters a mother in need. Her garage serves as a food pantry and clothing closet for her "chicks." More times than she can remember, she has given up her own bed to a pregnant woman and taken in a newborn baby awaiting adoption.

"I just help my girls through difficult times, and I try not to judge them," she says.

It's not always easy, especially when people take advantage of her generosity, demand more than their share or betray her trust. Whitlow has been lied to, ripped off, duped and threatened by some of the women she has clothed and fed and nurtured.

But when she presides over the birth of a healthy baby who has the promise of a bright future, she says, nothing else matters.

"I figured out my purpose real early in life," says Whitlow as she sits in a hospital waiting room one afternoon with a very pregnant client. "This is it."

Whitlow's purpose has nothing to do with politics or religion, nor is she pushing an anti-abortion agenda, she insists.

She is driven, she says, by nothing more than a love of children and a desire to keep as many of them as possible out of the foster care system.

"I absolutely hate foster care,"
she says, running a hand through her blonde hair. "Children need permanent homes. Period."

In Sacramento County alone, more than 4,000 children are in foster care at any given time, says Laurie Slothower of Child Protective Services. Many of them never will be placed in permanent homes, a fact that puts their futures at risk. Statistics show that children "emancipated" from foster care at age 18 are far more likely than their peers in stable homes to get into legal trouble, Slothower says.

CPS shares Whitlow's concerns about reducing the number of foster children, says Slothower. "It's true that it takes a village to raise a child, and we need all the help we can get. Government agencies can't do it all."

But the children most in need of foster homes are older kids, not babies, who are almost always adopted quickly, she says. If Whitlow wants to make a bigger impact, "she might do well to focus on kids ages 8 and older," Slothower says.

Whitlow says she's happy to help anyone in need.

She started Chicks in Crisis because she knows what it's like to be "pregnant and scared," she says.

Born and raised in Sacramento, she became pregnant while she was in high school and "got married in my prom dress," she says. She knows firsthand about poverty and welfare. One time, after her gas and electricity were shut off for lack of payment, "I yelled, 'I'm so tired of being a chick in crisis!'" That lament inspired the name of her organization.

Whitlow, who eventually got off welfare and went to school to become a paralegal, launched Chicks in Crisis 10 years ago. A divorced, 43-year-old mother of four adult children, she is currently parenting a 7-year-old boy whose biological mother is in prison.

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