Montgomery High freshman Gina Kelley is working to educate her classmates about teen pregnancy. Gina's mother, Coleen, gave birth to her when she was a teenager. (Photo by CONNER JAY / The Press Democrat)

By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Coleen Kelley “is the best mother anyone could ask for,” says her daughter, Gina Kelley — but the Montgomery High School freshman still wants her peers to avoid doing what her mother did: becoming a parent too early.

“You’re still a kid; you’re still trying to figure out who you are in the world,” said Kelley, 14, who has launched a school project to raise awareness of teen pregnancy. “You are not ready to take care of a life; I still have trouble taking care of myself.”

Kelley’s project includes creating a newsletter and a 10-minute classroom presentation. She pursues it without judgment.

“I think I have two audiences,” she said. “Teens who are already parents and teens who aren’t. Both are important to reach.”

Next to her daughter, Coleen Kelley, now a teacher at J.X. Wilson Elementary School, smiled proudly.

She had Gina when she was 15 and a freshman in high school in Lakeport.

“I always say, if I had to be a teen mom, I’m happy she was my daughter,” said Kelley, 30, who accompanied her daughter to an interview in downtown Santa Rosa to make sure it was a legitimate meeting.

Gina said it wasn’t hard having a single, teenage mother with whom she for a time shared a pediatrician.

“It made me a stronger person. She’s always taught me that I can do anything I want and nobody can stop me,” she said.

But her mother interjected: “Gina doesn’t remember, but she used to get really irritated when people would say, “Oh, is that your babysitter?’ It used to make her crazy. She doesn’t care now, but she used to when she was younger.”

She may not recall those days, but Gina Kelley has absorbed lasting lessons from her mother’s life.

One in Coleen Kelley’s words: “It made my life so much harder; it changed my life instantly.”

And another in her own: “They can still do whatever they want to do with their lives. Just because you’re a teen mother doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your dreams you had when you were 6. You can still become a doctor or a lawyer — it’s going to be harder, but you still can do it.”

Due to her own positive experience, she tempers her message somewhat.

“Abstinence is the only 100 percent way to not contract STDs or get pregnant,” she said, “but if you feel like you’re ready, just be safe, condoms and birth control.”

She added: “It’s really more: ‘Don’t get pregnant, there’s better things to be doing right now. It only takes once and it can happen to anybody.’”

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.

Lives with: Mother, Coleen; grandfather John; mother’s boyfriend, Andy, and three dogs and a cat.

Favorite hobby: softball

Dream job: teacher or editor of Seventeen magazine

Favorite T.V. show: “Vampire Diaries”

Favorite food: tacos and anything with pasta

Quote: “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” -Yogi Berra