Tears fill Brenda's eyes as she looks across at her former case manager Iselda. "I feel like she was the only person that really cared about me. She made me feel wonderful. She made me feel special." Brenda smiles before she continues, "Once a month I would see her and it was the best day of the month."
When Brenda first learned she was pregnant, she wasn't prepared to be a mother. Her parents had come from Mexico to give their children a brighter future. For Brenda, becoming a mom at 17 threatened that dream.
After the initial shock of her pregnancy wore off, Brenda decided that she wouldn't let motherhood get in the way of her educational goals. She'd go to school, while being the best mom she could be. Brenda connected with the Fresno Economic Opportunity Commission's Adolescent Family Life Program, which supports pregnant and parenting youth. The program provided the emotional support this young mom needed to navigate her new role. Says Brenda, "I knew there was someone in the world who would support teen parents, someone who didn't want us to fail." For Brenda, Iselda wasn't just her case manager, "She was my friend, my cheerleader."
After challenging her high school administration's attempt to have her attend a continuation school, Brenda returned to her traditional high school just weeks after the birth of her son. Through her economics class, Brenda was able to start a business. Brenda opted to sell baked goods, waking up bright and early to bake cake pops, brownies, cookies and mini pies. She'd sell the goods before school and during passing period, making upwards of $50 to $80 a day. She used the proceeds to help provide for her child. Brenda's baking talents didn't go unnoticed. Soon local businesses were reaching out to place orders. Brenda entered and won local and state baking competitions. Her success landed her at a national competition in New York City and while she didn't win, Brenda is incredibly proud of her tremendous accomplishment.
Iselda checked in with the young mom during their visits to make sure Brenda wasn't letting her economic success get in the way of her academic success. "She would always keep me accountable," says Brenda. Iselda would help Brenda organize her schedule, setting aside designated time to do homework and to study for upcoming tests. Now entering her junior year at Fresno State, Iselda's lessons still hold. When Brenda doesn't feel as eager to study, Brenda says, "I can hear Iselda behind me saying 'Brenda, you need to do homework, Brenda you need to study.'" And it works.
Brenda loves attending Fresno State where she is studying business and social work. On breaks she stops by the school's daycare to visit her son, Adriel. Her ultimate goal is to open a bakery that serves more than just baked goods, but the community at large by employing teen moms. "One of my passions is to help others," says Brenda. "I want to do what my case manager does, bring hope and light to someone's soul. I want to help those who were in my place. Teen moms that feel hopeless at the moment, that have been in bad relationships, that don't have anyone to go to in that moment to be their support system."
Brenda is no longer afraid of motherhood, she's embracing it. She's a busy mom who is achieving, thriving and loving her life.