Photo: Melissa Mendes Hurst (left) and BettyAnne Bianchini

In 2002, Melissa Mendes Hurst was 15 years old and mid-way through her first semester of Grade 10 at an Edmonton high school. She was thriving and had exceptional grades, but when the school principal discovered that Melissa was five months pregnant—a fact Melissa had only just begun to accept—she was told she had to transfer to Braemar School. She was refused the chance to write or challenge her final exams, and, as a result, she lost her Grade 10 credits, her friends and her peer group.

“It was rocky at first because the news of a teen pregnancy would shake any family system,” explains Melissa. When her mom found out, she didn’t speak to Melissa for a month and Melissa had to slowly rebuild that trust. “From that moment, I knew that I was accepting the responsibility not only to be a parent, but to move forward in my life. I had to do what was best for me and my daughter.” She enrolled at Braemar, secured funding, began taking additional courses to graduate on time and started planning for a career as a mental health worker. It was at Braemar School that she met BettyAnne Bianchini.

BettyAnne taught CALM, Foods and Fashion, and also facilitated work experience placements. Melissa, who at the time was doing her work experience at a group home at Catholic Social Services, happened to be one of the students BettyAnne supervised. “Melissa was exceptional. Focused, non-judgmental, social with other girls but not in the soup, so to speak,” BettyAnne reflects.

Melissa worked hard and sacrificed her own self care to support her daughter, become financially stable and create a future for herself. Working two jobs and attending school full-time meant she functioned on very little sleep. Her days began at 7:30 a.m. when she drove Jennesa to daycare and ended when she got home from her night shift at the Royal Alex hospital in the early hours of the next day.

Several years later, Melissa graduated from MacEwan University and received a Mental Health with Aboriginal Connections diploma. In September 2008, she applied for a Family Outreach position at Terra. She landed the job and has been with the agency ever since—over 10 years—using her own personal experience to relate to and support teen parent families on her caseload.

In fall 2018, over a decade after BettyAnne and Melissa first met, they had the opportunity to work together as Terra employees. After retiring from her teaching career with Edmonton Public, BettyAnne took a contract with Terra to facilitate a program called a Family Approach to Literacy. It introduces parents to literacy and teaches them strategies to incorporate fun, literacy-based activities into their everyday lives. Although BettyAnne has facilitated the program for our families for years, recently Melissa has come alongside her and helped coordinate the delivery of the program.

Melissa has truly come full circle, first receiving support from BettyAnne as a student in high school and now delivering services to teen parents right beside her. Our community is so fortunate to have dedicated, passionate staff like Melissa and BettyAnne.

Family Literacy Program Statistics

Read More

You’ll find this article and more in our 2018 Community Report, titled Humans of Terra.

The report is a curated collection of stories and photography, which represents the important network of relationships at Terra—between our families, alumni, staff, volunteers, donors and supporters.

Read the full report!