Former single mom gives teen mothers hope for the future.
photo credit: Ed Clement
Karen Watson cuddles a baby living at Our Mother’s Home.
BYLINE: CATHY CHESTNUT
Following a 16-year career teaching at -risk preschoolers in Lee County’s Head Start program, Karen Watson (’08 MSW) is finally home.
As executive director of Our Mother’s Home in San Carlos Park, Watson is the parent educator she’d yearned to be, overseeing a stable home – for eight teen mothers and their babies – as advocate, counselor and ersatz grandmother.
Fueled by frustration and optimism, Watson returned to higher education to earn a master’s degree in social work from Florida Gulf Coast University. Through regular home visits, Watson, now 48, came to believe that poor parenting was the root cause of impoverished students’ social, developmental and nutritional obstacles. “I wanted to teach the parents,” she says.
With graduate studies focused on mental illness in women and children, Watson began volunteering at the home in 2007 as an advocate and group leader, then joined the board before becoming executive director.
Parenting issues aren’t the only challenges facing residents at Our Mother’s Home, which opened in 2000 as a haven for pregnant foster teens. Removed from their families by state authorities due to abandonment or abuse, the young girls have nowhere else to turn. Some were victims of human trafficking; most suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Watson’s days involve managing staff and volunteers as well as juggling school, medical and legal appointments for the teens and their offspring, who range from newborns to toddlers.
“I really enjoy making everything click and connect together,” she says.
The lifelong Lee County resident takes a personal approach to her job. Growing up in a low-income neighborhood, she was the eldest of four children and helped her single mother with chores and bills. At 18, she became pregnant during her freshman year at Edison Community College (now Edison State College).
As a single mother, she managed work, studies and child-rearing before marrying Frederick Watson. They had another daughter, Collette, and today are proud grandparents.
Watson shares wisdom. She urges teen moms to look inside themselves. She says measured, positive support from her teachers and mentors during her formative years had the most impact, making her realize, “I didn’t have to be stifled – I could go forward. They planted seeds,” she says. “That’s why I’m here. I am planting seeds.”