People walk by, waving and saying hi to Evelyn as she stands out in the courtyard of El Nido Family Centers in Pacoima, California. Beaming, she smiles back at them before going back to work as a case manager in the family resource center. Evelyn knows what it's like to receive resources from El Nido, and has gone from a participant in their Adolescent Family Life Program (AFLP) to working for the agency that changed her life. Says Evelyn, "The agency has provided me with the tools and resources necessary to reach my goals and dreams. My biggest dream while being in the program was to graduate college, and I did. Now I work for the agency and have a stable job, which allows me to not only support myself and my daughter, but to also give back to our community and the organization that supported me."
At the end of 10th grade, Evelyn found herself pregnant and scared. Her partner at the time was not supportive or interested in becoming a parent, resulting in her having to tell her parents she was pregnant on her own. She knew they wouldn't be happy with the news. Seeking outside guidance, Evelyn enrolled in El Nido's Adolescent Family Life Program, which connected her to case manager Lilia, a supportive adult in whom Evelyn could confide. "The goals I had set for myself while in the program were to gain guidance in regards to becoming a parent at such a young age. I also wanted support with my academics and to gain access to additional resources, such as child care," says Evelyn. What she didn't know at the time was just how much joining the program would change her life.
Before getting pregnant, Evelyn had little interest in school and no aspirations to attend college. "However, I told myself I could do better for my daughter. I worked hard academically to ensure I graduated high school," says Evelyn. And while her guidance counselor wanted her to graduate high school, they didn't discuss the possibility of Evelyn seeking higher education. But case manager Lilia did. "She empowered me to aim higher. UCLA became my dream school because of her," says Evelyn.
Evelyn attended UCLA and completed her bachelor's degree in Sociology. Says Evelyn, "What I am most proud of is completing higher education. When I became pregnant, I was behind on school credits, had a lot of absences. My daughter changed my life for the better. I have become a good role model for her as she now wants to attend UCLA, like me."
As a case manager for El Nido's Family Resource Center, Evelyn is now encouraging other youth to pursue the goals that are important to them, including going to college. Evelyn also works with the El Nido Alumni Association to award scholarships to current clients who are attending two-year and four-year schools. In this role, she meets with youth to provide help applying to college, filling out student loan paperwork and answering any questions they might have about attending university. Last year the agency provided scholarships to 34 young people seeking higher education.
Since her time in AFLP, Evelyn has transformed from a young mom with low self-esteem, to a confident and empowered woman. Evelyn credits AFLP and her own strengths for the person she has become. Evelyn even has her own motto: "Don't let obstacles get in the way of pursuing your dreams."