Maria Santos immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was only 2 years old. Her parents along with her two brothers found a home in the Edgewater neighbor- hood and began to slowly transition into a new culture and lifestyle.
As a child, Maria embraced her new way of life. She excelled at school from a young age and was motivated by her strict upbringing to perform well in all she did. Unfortu- nately, as a teenager she began to experience turmoil in her home life. The culture clash between her very religious and traditional Mexican parents and the American- ized and rebellious teenager that Maria had become, led to her run away at the age of 15. Maria moved in with her boyfriend.
The following year, as a junior in high school, Maria became pregnant. The school she attended turned its back on her and she was pushed out. High school graduation which was only a year away, felt completely out of reach. Maria, never being one to remain idle, immediately found a job at a local sports store and tried to move forward as best she could.
Maria felt resigned to a life without education. “I began to accept that a diploma might
not be in my future, until I came across an Options for Youth flyer in my Obstetrician’s office during my sixth month of preg- nancy,” she says. The message on that flyer was simple and spoke to her. She was not alone. She could graduate from high school. The Options for Youth Illinois Subsequent Pregnancy Program could help. Maria called the phone number immediately. Soon after, she was attending group meetings with other pregnant and parenting girls in the program, many that were even younger than she was, and many that were still attending high school.
To say that Maria was inspired by the mentors and participants in the Illinois Subsequent Pregnancy Program was an understate- ment. She had never felt so accepted and supported in her life. In particular, her assigned ISPP Home Visitor, Fabiola Perez, became a second mother to Maria and took her under her wing. Fabiola convinced her to go back to school and get her degree. Maria found an alternative school that better fit her needs and she worked hard to make up all of the time she lost while preg- nant. In fact, Maria was so determined to graduate that after her daughter was born on June 3rd, she was back in class on June 5th finishing up her exams. She received her high school diploma that same year.
Fabiola also convinced Maria to continue her work with Options for Youth as a Peer Educator. In the Peer Educator position, she was able to share her knowledge and support with all the teen girls that were in the same position she was in just a year ear- lier. In addition to volunteering as a peer educator, Maria worked numerous jobs to support herself and her child.
Maria’s Home Visitor eventually moved back to her home country of Columbia to be closer to family. When Maria heard about the impending departure she was devastated, however, Fabiola left her with a lasting and meaningful gift– She recommended that Maria replace her as a Home Visitor in the Subsequent Pregnancy Program. Her confidence in Maria was unwavering and the Options for Youth administration agreed as they hired Maria for the position.
In 2014, Maria received her Associates Degree from Wright College and now takes classes part-time at Northeastern Illinois University, working towards her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. She loves her job as an Options for Youth Home Visitor and works tirelessly to help adolescent girls improve their lives and the lives of their children. Maria’s experience with the Subse- quent Pregnancy Program shaped her into the woman she is today. She is strong, confident, accomplished, and proud!