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The personal experience of a teen parent in Greater Peoria

Ranisha Riddle had her son Keundre when she was 16.
Collin Schopp
Ranisha Riddle had her son Keundre when she was 16.

Ranisha Riddle’s son Keundre is 10 years old and starting middle school. When Riddle gave birth to him, she was 16.

Riddle says the experience of a young, teenage mother in Peoria County is a difficult one.

“I did not know exactly how to be a mother because I was so busy trying to be a teenager,” she said. “But soon, that changed. So I had to grow up a little sooner than most.”

Riddle said she had to learn that it takes a village to raise a child and you have to identify what people and influences are right and wrong for your children.

“Especially with teen moms, if they grew up in trauma, like I grew up in trauma,” she said. “So trying to break that generational curse of things. Like that’s the hardest part because your family is your family.”

Riddle said she did receive some support from family while navigating being a teen mother. She also found support within the community, particularly in the Christian faith-based group Young Lives Peoria. Riddle said her faith was incredibly important to her throughout the experience of raising a child as a teenager.

“Basically, we’d get together and we’d eat. We talk about things, we cry together, we laugh together,” she said. “And most of all, we read the word and write in our books, things that we want to accomplish and things that we don’t want to happen and things like that.”

Riddle also found childcare through a faith organization. A relative who had also been a teen parent recommended the Infant Care Center at Westminster Presbyterian Church. The program provides childcare for young mothers working to finish high school or get their GED.

Riddle describes the service as “amazing.”

When asked what is lacking in the Greater Peoria area for a teen mother, Riddle said it’s difficult to find a secure place to live.

“You’re a teenager, at that age, like you can’t get an apartment until you’re like 18,” she said. “So like, it’s hard to try and find a place to stay, a place to be comfortable and peaceful at. And not be told that you’re acting grown, or you’re not doing enough or something like that. Having your own space and your own environment. That’s the hardest thing as a teen mom.”

An upcoming project in the Greater Peoria area could provide a way to address some of the needs that Riddle’s story highlights. The Zoe House, operated by Dream Center Peoria, is an application-based, residential program providing a safe place for teen moms to spend an 18-month program learning parenting and life skills like budgeting, arranging childcare and healthy family dynamics.

Officials with Dream Center Peoria say they closed on the property in rural Washington for the program in late November. They’re aiming to have the program running by May 2024.

“The fact that they’re giving them a home, a rested home that they can feel safe in,” Riddle said. “And then, not only that, it’s other girls in there that are going through the same experiences as them. So they can all help each other out on top of helping them out. So it’s like, it’s a whole little glow around. It’s beautiful.”

Riddle has advice for other teen mothers in the Greater Peoria area, as they navigate their challenges and new resources flourish.

“Stay determined and stay consistent,” she said. “Consistency is always key. I understand things are going to be hard, but life is always hard. And it’s okay that sometimes you feel like things are not going right. Because having that feeling of being uncomfortable, this is a light that God is shining on you that things need to be moved around.”

Now, Riddle works for Rivian, though she says she plans to go back to school to become an esthetician. She's reflective looking back on the 10 years of raising Keundre. But, of course, parenting isn't without its challenges.

"The smart mouth, I'm over it," Riddle said through laughter. "Boy, I made you, like why have you gotta act like your mama. But overall, it'll get better because he has such a sweet heart."

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.