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’16 and Pregnant’ teen mom takes on new role as advocate

Jennifer Del Rio with twins, Noah, left, and Joshua. (Submitted by Jennifer Del Rio)

Jennifer Del Rio with twins, Noah, left, and Joshua. (Submitted by Jennifer Del Rio)

Since moving to Lake Villa about a year ago, Jennifer Del Rio has parlayed her “16 and Pregnant” reality TV show appearance into a role as an advocate for teen mothers.

Del Rio, 17, the mother of 18-month-old twin boys, appeared on the show in April 2011, while she was still living in Tampa. After moving to Lake Villa to be closer to relatives–and to get a break from the boys’ father–she began volunteering to share her story with other teen moms in the area.

Del Rio got pregnant the summer before her sophomore year. Her parents were supportive, but there was a lot of drama, she said. Many of the teens she speaks to have seen the show and are familiar with her story. They know about the rift between her and the boys’ father and want to know what he is doing now, she said.

“Most of them are looking for that support. Many have been abandoned by the fathers, and some also do not have relationships with their parents, said Del Rio, who is also helping to promote a measure spearheaded by Christa March, founder and president of Gurnee-based Teen Choices International.

Although being a teen mother has been difficult, Jennifer Del Rio says, “My life is better now.” (Submitted by Jennifer Del Rio)

Teen Choice trains local organizations worldwide to serve teen mothers in their own communities. March is pushing for the Sunday before Mothers Day to be nationally recognized as Teen Mom’s Day.

“It’s not a day to glorify teen motherhood,” March said. “We want it to be a day that we observe, that there are girls out there that are working hard and are trying to make a better way.”

Local chapters of Teen Mothers Choices in Gurnee, Antioch and Arlington Heights have dedicated their annual Mothers Day dinners on May 7, 8 and 9 to Teen Mom’s Day, said Executive Director Mona Boelens.

And on May 6, Rolling Meadows High School will host Teen Mom’s Day for District 214 Program participants will share potluck as a deejay spins music and receive free makeovers from students at a local cosmetology school, said Joanne Bratta, teen parenting program coordinator.

Del Rio, who earned her GED and is taking classes at College of Lake County, plans a career in criminal justice. Knowing first-hand what it’s like to be “16 and pregnant,” Del Rio said she was inspired to help others who found themselves in similar circumstances and reached out to local organizations dedicated to supporting teen mothers.

Although raising two boys on her own has been exhausting, Del Rio said she has grown accustomed to the physical demands.

“My life is better now,” she said, adding her sons, Joshua and Noah, give her great joy, especially after moving to another state and leaving her friends behind.

“I talk to them all the time, even though they don’t understand what I’m saying,” Del Rio said. “They’re my children, but they’re my friends, too.”

While becoming a public figure as a reality television star has not always been the easiest transition, Del Rio said she has appreciated the experience and is making good use of the opportunities that have presentment themselves.

“You’re not used to the fame and the world making comments on your life,” Del Rio said. “But I met great people and I made great connections.

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