An isolated teen mother learns parenting, earns Master’s degree and gives back to the community

“All of my goals have been accomplished, because as a teen parent El Nido Family Centers taught me how to set goals and boundaries for myself, how to be a great mother, how to apply for a job, and how to give back to my community.”

When Zuly was just 13, she found herself living in the Pacoima barrio with her mother and her mother’s new boyfriend, who had become abusive. With no one to turn to, she found herself pregnant and alone at 14.

“I can remember the day my entire life changed. There was a knock on my door. It was a caseworker from El Nido,” she recalls. “She was the first person who ever believed in me.” The caseworker enrolled Zuly in school, taught her time management skills, and connected the young mother to vital resources for both her and her infant daughter. Through El Nido’s Adolescent Family Life Program (AFLP) teen-parent program, Zuly enrolled in parenting classes and took job preparation classes.

With her caseworker’s unyielding personal guidance, Zuly graduated from high school at 19, then worked her way through college, earning a BA in psychology from California State University, Northridge. Inspired by the help she received at El Nido, Zuly went on to earn her Master’s degree in social work (MSW) at CSUN in 2014 and currently works for a foster care agency. She also volunteers for El Nido and was a founding member of the El Nido Alumni Association. One day Zuly hopes to manage a social service agency and raise millions of dollars to help high-risk youth and families improve their lives. She would also like to teach at a university.

“I want to make a positive contribution to my community,” Zuly explains. “All of my goals have been accomplished, because as a teen parent, El Nido Family Centers taught me how to set goals and boundaries for myself, how to be a great mother, how to apply for a job, and how to give back to my community.”

“I learned that taking the time to role-model and mentor an individual can be a life-changing experience. Mentoring is like polishing a dirty diamond: the beautiful diamond has always been there, but as a mentor one has to constantly be polishing the diamond for its beauty to shine! When you meet one who apparently shows no hope, don’t doubt of his or her abilities, because he/she most likely only needs a mentor to show a different path to take control of his or her life!”

Zuly is the proud mother of a daughter majoring in psychology at CSUN, and a son who is in an advanced studies program at a local middle school. Her children have grown up inspired by their mother’s strong work ethic, integrity, and commitment to breaking unhealthy cycles. “Creating a stable life for my children has been my life’s ambition. I am proud that my daughter and son are excelling in school and are very well adjusted.” Believing in the virtuous cycle of giving, she adds, “I hope to pass on to my children the importance of believing in themselves, the power within them, and the importance of gratitude and giving back to our community.”