Mercedes Yates–Jones has always had a competitive spirit. Her positive attitude and desire to beat the odds have been driven by the people in her life who have consistently told her she wouldn’t amount to anything.
She’s heard those words since she was a child. With a mother who was addicted to drugs, Mercedes did not have the unconditional love and support that most children experience.
By the young age of 12, Mercedes’ family life had become so unstable that she was removed from her home in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago and moved across the state to Dolton, Illinois, to live with a sister she barely knew.
It was in Dolton, during her sophomore year of high school that Mercedes became pregnant at the age of 16. “I had a lot of friends in high school and was very active in sports and clubs,” she says. However, the transition to motherhood was not an easy one for Mercedes. “After I became pregnant nobody wanted me around.”
Without any support from family or friends, Mercedes turned to Options for Youth’s Illinois Subsequent Pregnancy Program (ISPP) and was introduced to her ISPP Home Visitor. ISPP is one of the only programs focused specifically upon helping first-time teen mothers delay a second pregnancy and graduate from high school. ISPP provides a long-term personal relationship with a well-trained Home Visitor and intense training through group participation, After Mercedes joined ISPP, her Home Visitor provided ongoing individual support. She helped Mercedes to believe that she could succeed and gave her the tools to do so. Mercedes attended weekly Advisory Group meetings where parenting classes helped her become a loving and stable parent to her daughter. She did all of this while maintaining a 3.5 grade point average and graduating from high school on schedule.
After high school graduation, Mercedes’ Home Visitor helped her move back to Chicago to gain better access to the resources she needed as a single mother providing for her daughter. Mercedes moved in with her brother where she and her daughter shared a small room. She began working as an Options for Youth Training Assistant as a way to stay engaged with young mothers and support herself and her family. Mercedes also began taking classes at Roosevelt University, but her lack of a stable home life and increasing college costs led Mercedes to reevaluate her choices. She turned to her Home Visitor for help in transferring to Southern Illinois University.
As fate would have it, a student apartment became available for Mercedes just three short weeks before the start of the semester. Once Mercedes was guaranteed a spot at SIU, her Home Visitor organized a “college donation drive” to gather the supplies Mercedes and her daughter needed. The ISPP staff helped pack up a U-Haul and drove to Carbondale, IL where Mercedes began her studies at Southern Illinois University. When the SIU housing coordinator handed Mercedes the key to her apartment, she couldn’t stop shaking: this was the first and only key she had ever been given to a home. Mercedes was overcome with emotions because she finally had a place where she belonged.
Mercedes life was forever changed by the positive support she received from ISPP and Options for Youth. She believes in the program and still gives back by volunteering as a SPP Peer Educator. “One of the things I love doing most is giving new program participants a college tour. I want them to know I’ve been in their place,” she says. Mercedes is now preparing to graduate from SIU with a degree in psychology. Her next goal — a career in the criminal justice system where she knows she can make a difference in the lives of many adolescents going through the same types of challenges she once faced.
Update: Mercedes’ success story continues! She will graduate with her Master’s degree in Social Work on May 13, 2017, just in time for Mother’s Day.