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Program Helps Teen Moms & Children Bond Over Fresh Food

By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – Preschool students at Florence Crittenton Services were back in their school garden Tuesday watering the vegetables they planted this spring. It's part of a program introducing them to healthy food choices and influencing what the whole family eats at home.

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"She would be like, 'Look mom, they're doing the garden!'" said Angie Pinedo, the mother of one of the students in the program. "She would come home and try to water the grass."

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The Florence Crittenton Early Childhood Education Center is one of 15 child care centers in Colorado that is participating in Cooking up Healthy Options with Plants (CHOP) this year. Funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, staff with the Department of Public Health & Environment applied for the funding to make CHOP happen in the state.

"It's good to educate the kids about where their food comes from," Tyler Tresch, a preschool teacher at the Center." Starting early, they learn what a healthy meal looks like."

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The kids took turns carrying small containers of water to pour onto a variety of plants that included zucchini, watermelon, and flowers. They are students on one part of the campus while their mothers are finishing high school on site. They are between 14 to 21 years old working toward their diploma as young parents.

"I know a lot of us are very uncomfortable with who we are, being a teen mom," said Pinedo.

Pinedo was 15 when she got pregnant and started at Florence Crittenton in 2014. Four years later she graduated and is preparing for a career as her daughter, Mia, is ready for elementary school. She is grateful for the support on campus to help them both get to this day.

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Angie Pinedo and her daughter Mia (credit: CBS)

"Just because I was 15 when I had a child doesn't make me any different from the other teenagers out there," she said. "I couldn't imagine if I hadn't gotten pregnant, and she wasn't here."

The garden has created another opportunity for mothers and their children to spend more time together on campus. It also helps create a conversation at home about what are the right meals for the family.

"The kids kind of become educators for the moms," said Tresch.

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Pinedo says the time she spends with her daughter at the garden is just a reminder of the impact Mia has made on her life.

"If it wasn't for Mia, I don't know where I would be," she said. "I think growing up fast was something I needed."

Florence Crittenton Services is looking for volunteers and donations all year to support their programs. Young mothers looking to enroll can start registration in early August. Students are accepted throughout the year.

Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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