SALAMANCA, N.Y. — In a state where teen pregnancy is high, Zafron Home for Parenting Teens in Salamanca can be considered a place of refuge.
"It's a reality-based program so they are 24/7 learning life skills,care-taking of the baby and toddler," according to Kathy Dilallo, program coordinator of Zafron Home which is part of New Directions Youth and Family Services.
Theresa Thomas recalls going to Zafron home with her 6-month old baby boy. She was pregnant at age 15 and her mother had her placed in the group home, even though Theresa went kicking and screaming.
She stayed over a year and while she wasn't always obedient, she learned a lesson while there and it lasted a lifetime.
"People say you're going into a group home, you're not going to graduate, but you don't have to succumb to that," Thomas said. "I had it in my mind that I was not going to be a statistic. I just wasn't. It doesn't matter that I came to Salamanca, she said.
The home can accommodate seven mother and seven babies. Teens are placed there from across the state by the courts.
"A lot of times when they come they're defeated, because everybody said they are a teen mom, there's no way, they're not going to have a life and here is where we teach them otherwise," said Dilallo.
Teen pregnancy is a real issue.
Niagara Falls has the highest teen pregnancy rate in New York State. According to the most recent state health department statistics, about one in 10 teenage girls became pregnant in at least two Niagara Falls zip code.
Erie County's latest figures from 2015 show 630 pregnant teens in the City of Buffalo, across the county 930.
Thomas is now an entrepreneur. She owns Once Upon A Sleepover, an event service provider that puts together themed sleepover parties for kids.The married mother of eight, including a set of twins returned to the place where her life changed. Her son is now 18.
"Our focus here is to teach them how to break that cycle so their child doesn't live what they've live, according to Dilallo.