Every teenager looks forward to two important rites of passage – graduating high school and getting their driver’s license. When 17-year-old Maria Mendez found out she was pregnant, she questioned if both of these things would happen for her.

Maria, the youngest of five, grew up in a single-parent household in Bakersfield, California. Though quiet and reserved, Maria sought out help when she found out she was pregnant in late 2018.

“Don’t think just because you’re pregnant you can’t go to school. You can do anything you want.” – Maria Mendez

Her friend introduced her to Sonia, a Teen Success, Inc. Advocate in Bakersfield. “At first she was extremely shy and soft-spoken,” said Sonia. “But she didn’t feel pressured into talking and that helped her grow at her own pace.”

As Maria began to trust in Sonia, they set out a plan to help her accomplish her goals. “I had goals to graduate and get my driver’s license,” said Maria. “Don’t think just because you’re pregnant you can’t go to school. You can do anything you want.” Maria was often reminded of this by Sonia.

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Maria (right) with her Teen Success, Inc. Advocate, Sonia (left). Maria is a participant of the Teen Success, Inc. Bakersfield program in partnership with Planned Parenthood Mar Monte.

“My mom is both mom and dad. She didn’t stop and she gave me everything she could. I’m thankful for her.” – Maria Mendez

​Young moms like Maria face challenges like every other mother, but too often they lack the resources and support system to overcome them. Getting around on public transportation to and from school is often problematic, more so with an infant. Still, Maria wants to go to college, to be an independent and self-reliant mom, and she has a flair for working with her hands in construction. Without her Advocate, Sonia, and Teen Success, Inc., Maria’s chances of accomplishing her goals and exploring career options are low.

“I have a lot of questions about being pregnant and about the baby. [Sonia’s] really helpful,” Maria said. “I want to go to college, and she helps me with that. And I was thinking about working at a bank.”

​Maria draws strength from her mom and the memory of her dad. “[My parents] are hardworking and gave us what we needed, like food and clothes.” After Maria’s dad passed away when she was 11, her mom found a way to continue to support Maria. “My mom is both my mom and dad. She didn’t stop and she gave me everything she could. I’m thankful for her.”

“There were times that I wanted to give up, but I didn’t, I pushed myself.” – Maria Mendez

Maria also has Sonia’s connections to parenting and educational resources, and the unwavering support of the other young moms in her Teen Success group. “I like that Sonia helps me a lot and I like the group. I met new girls and we’re always talking and hearing each other. There I can talk and I can be outgoing.”

When the day came for Maria to take her driver’s test, Sonia was there to support her. “She kept saying you’re gonna pass it, you’re gonna pass it. I was really happy because that was one thing I always wanted. I feel good to have my driver’s license.”

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Maria on the day she passed her driver’s test

Despite a difficult pregnancy and health conditions that had her missing a lot of school, Maria graduated high school from Tierra Del Sol Continuation School – two months early. “I feel really proud of myself. I always said I’m gonna graduate. There were times that I wanted to give up, but I didn’t, I pushed myself.”

Maria gave birth to baby Ian in July 2019. Her dream is for him to grow up and become a respectful, hardworking man and to go to college to pursue the career of his dreams.

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Maria graduated from Tierra Del Sol Continuation School in March 2019

Teen Success, Inc. empowers young mothers to graduate high school. For this and other stories about young mothers please visit https://www.teensuccess.org/our-stories.html.