Sky Lopez’s Graduation Journey: A Story of Resilience

Sky Lopez, who recently graduated from Clovis High School, is driven by her experience in the foster care system and as a teen mom to take her education even further. She wants to make a difference for kids and teens facing similar challenges. Like her, they will need solid support and guidance that resonates to succeed in life.

Sky is a fitting person to provide these services as she was a foster care child from ages 6 to 13, when she was adopted by her second set of foster parents. “With 11 siblings, none of whom I have a close relationship with, I have always felt a deep calling to help foster kids, knowing firsthand the challenges they face,” she says.

Sky now wants to learn business principles and work toward earning a doctorate to be able to one day open her own psychology practice that will help children in foster care. Her first step: enrolling in Clovis Community College.

The Importance of Support Systems

The “supportive community of moms” Sky met through Shine Together as a teen mom were a lifeline, she says, and offered both emotional and practical support as she managed to keep up with her high school studies while raising her son, Shadrach. “Mentorship is incredibly important for young mothers in school,” she says. “Having someone who understands your journey because they have walked a similar path provides invaluable support and encouragement.”

Her Shine advocate was a particularly supportive force when Shadrach required surgery and Sky had to miss a week of classes. She needed that support to stay on track during a moment of adversity. Pushing forward during such times and other challenges has required resolve and a clear mind to make rational decisions, Sky says. She was rewarded for her ability to overcome the odds by being named salutatorian of her graduating class—one of her proudest moments, she says.

What’s her biggest motivator? Shadrach inspires her every day, Sky says: “His presence in my life is a constant reminder of why I work so hard and why I am determined to succeed.”

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MacKenzie Scott’s $2M nonprofit donation to help Fresno mothers

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated millions to nearly 80 California-based nonprofit organizations – and one of them is right here in the Central Valley.

The organization Scott donated to is called “Shine Together,” which helps young mothers break the cycle of generational poverty. They received $2 million from Scott.

MacKenzie Scott donates millions to nearly 80 organizations in California

Scott, who helped grow and establish Amazon alongside Jeff Bezos, pledged to donate half of her wealth, which Forbes estimates to be $365 billion.

Vanessa Padilla, an advocate for Shine Together, says was a teen parent herself and says being a part of this program had a positive impact on her.

“Coming into this program, I learned a lot about being more mindful of taking judgment,” Padilla said. “We talked about this in the group and said let’s not reciprocate what people are giving to you.”

The Fresno Regional Director of Shine Together, Sarah Villa, says the $2 million grant will help them develop strategic plans, increase invisibility and help them reach young parents.

Villa says the grant will help deepen the work and the capacity to support more young mothers in the Fresno community. It will also help them improve their health and wellness for themselves and their children.

Read orginal article here.


Tears, disbelief: Sacramento nonprofits receive millions from billionaire MacKenzie Scott

Niki Singleton, the regional director of nonprofit Shine Together’s Sacramento chapter, was still in shock two days after learning a billionaire philanthropist selected the organization out of thousands nationwide to receive more than $1 million.

Shine Together, serving young women who become mothers, was one of three capital region nonprofits to receive funding streams by author MacKenzie Scott, who co-founded Amazon with now ex-husband Jeff Bezos. The other nonprofits were the Sacramento LGBT Community CenterMartin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center in Yolo County and the California Native Vote Project.

“This is really happening?” Singleton recalled saying when learning of the gift.

Read the full article here.


Shine Together Receives $2 Million Gift From the Yield Giving Open Call

Milpitas, CA, March 19, 2024 – Today, MacKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving  announced Shine Together as one of the Yield Giving Open Call’s awardees working with  people and in places experiencing the greatest need in the United States. Shine Together received $2 million.

Shine Together creates economic advancement for multiple generations, by partnering with young mothers to further their education, build life and career skills, and nurture their children’s development.

In March 2023, Yield Giving launched an Open Call for community-led, community-focused organizations  whose explicit purpose is to enable individuals and families to achieve substantive improvement in their  well-being through foundational resources.

“We are beyond grateful for this opportunity. Education stands as the cornerstone in our fight against the cycle of generational poverty for young women. At Shine Together, we partner with young mothers to navigate and remove barriers so they can achieve their educational, wellness, and parenting goals. Through our partnership with Yield Giving, we are able to amplify our mission and create lasting change in communities facing the greatest need.”

The Open Call received 6,353 applications and initially planned for 250 awards of $1 million each. In the Fall of 2023, organizations top-rated by their peers advanced to a second round of review by an external  Evaluation Panel recruited for experience relevant to this cause, and underwent a final round of due  diligence. In light of the incredible work of these organizations, as judged by their peers and external  panelists, the donor team decided to expand the awardee pool and the award amount.

"We are excited that our partnership with Yield Giving has resonated with so many organizations," said Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change. "In a world teeming with potential and talent, the Open Call has  given us an opportunity to identify, uplift, and empower transformative organizations that often remain  unseen.”

More information on the Yield Giving Open Call and other initiatives can be found at  www.leverforchange.org.

Shine Together

Shine Together believes education is the key factor in breaking the cycle of generational poverty faced by young families. Shine empowers young mothers to complete high school, persist through post-secondary education, and nurture their child’s positive development, thus creating an avenue to economic advancement for the whole family.

Yield Giving

Established by MacKenzie Scott to share a financial fortune created through the effort of countless  people, Yield Giving is named after a belief in adding value by giving up control. To date, Yield’s network  of staff and advisors has yielded over $16,500,000,000 to 1,900+ non-profit teams to use as they see fit  for the benefit of others. To learn more, visit www.yieldgiving.com.

Lever for Change

Lever for Change connects donors with bold solutions to the world’s biggest problems—including issues  like racial inequity, gender inequality, lack of access to economic opportunity, and climate change. Using  an inclusive, equitable model and due diligence process, Lever for Change creates customized challenges  and other tailored funding opportunities. Top-ranked teams and challenge finalists become members of  the Bold Solutions Network—a growing global network that helps secure additional funding, amplify members’ impact, and accelerate social change. Founded in 2019 as a nonprofit affiliate of the John D.  and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Lever for Change has influenced over $1.7 billion in grants to  date and provided support to more than 145 organizations. To learn more, visit www.leverforchange.org.


Meet Emiko Ropp

Dear Supporters,

My name is Emiko Ropp, and I want to share with you the transformative journey I've experienced with Shine Together. I joined this incredible program shortly after welcoming my son into the world at the young age of 19. I was navigating the challenges of being a new mother while feeling uncertain about my future.

At first, I didn’t realize the potential impact Shine could have on my life. My mom showed me the website, and I signed up, but I was sleep- deprived and overwhelmed in the early days of motherhood. I barely remembered enrolling when I found out I was accepted. Only after a conversation with a Shine Advocate did I begin to comprehend the incredible support and opportunities awaiting me.

Prior to my son’s birth, I had shelved any thoughts of continuing my education. I felt unqualified and believed I had nothing to offer because I hadn’t graduated from high school. However, Shine illuminated the path for me by revealing that I had indeed graduated—I simply needed to collect my diploma. This small act was monumental, a pivotal moment that I wouldn’t have experienced without Shine’s guidance.

My experience during labor, supported by dedicated nurses, ignited a passion to become a labor and delivery nurse. It felt like a distant dream until Shine encouraged and empowered me to take steps towards making it a reality. Now, I am on the brink of starting my educational journey at Sacramento Community College in pursuit of that dream.

I urge every young mother out there to consider joining Shine Together. The guidance and unwavering support from our Advocates, the camaraderie and connections formed with fellow mothers, and the incredible generosity of donors have the power to redefine our lives.

With gratitude and hope,

Emiko Ropp


Meet Sofia Jaquez, a Shining Star

As an undergrad working toward getting into law school, Sofia Jaquez is incredibly busy. In addition to being a full-time student and volunteer in the Bay Area community, she’s a single mom raising two daughters. Amid managing motherhood, pursuing her postsecondary education, and navigating her finances, she wants to be a role model to others, including her two daughters. From all that she has achieved so far, Sofia is already an inspiration.

“She inspires me to be more involved in my community and to speak up on things that are important to me,” says Jennaliz Blanco, a Bay Area Coordinator for Shine Together, who has worked closely with Sofia. “She has inspired me to never let anything get in my way and that with hard work, patience, and time, goals will be met and well worth it.”

Shine became a lifeline for Sofia when she was pregnant with her first child and did not find strong levels of support elsewhere. Through Shine’s programs, including the Teen Success program, Sofia gained an Advocate who steered her toward resources and helped her develop parenting skills, all while making lifelong friendships with like-minded young moms.

Now, Sofia is giving back as an Ambassador for Shine, to share what she knows with new moms just embarking on motherhood. It is a tough journey that is more manageable when moms have comprehensive support and knowledge of how to better themselves and their children, and to pursue the next step. 87% of Shine participants have graduated from high school or are on track to do so, compared to only 38% of young mothers nationwide. And 53% of Shine participants are pursuing some form of postsecondary education. Nationally only 2% of young mothers achieve a college degree by age 30.

Donations to Shine help young mothers, like Sofia, reach their potential by graduating from high school and pursuing post-secondary education so they can create thriving futures for themselves and their children.

"Not only does the program support moms but children too. Through donations, two generations are able to thrive and receive help.”
— Sofia Jaquez

“Donating to this program would expand opportunities to other young moms like me,” Sofia says. “They will be supported with education navigation and resource brokering. Contributions will also help out with financial emergencies as well as providing experiences that most young moms would be unable to afford on their own, such as a trip to Happy Hollow Zoo.”

A first generation student of her family to graduate from college, Sofia is working toward becoming an attorney, to be a representative of her community.

She wants people who look like her and were raised similarly to feel seen and supported.

She’s already making progress toward this goal as a founding member of the Youth Liberation Movement and a board member of Work2future, San Jose Conservation Corps, and a Google funding committee. Sofia graduated from Mission College this May and was accepted to every university she applied to. Sofia will begin the next stage of her journey at University of California, Berkeley this fall.


A Story of Resiliency: Vanessa’s Journey and Enduring Connection with Her Shine Advocate

When she was a teen mom, Vanessa Padilla took a while to warm up to people. She had felt judged by her school peers when she became pregnant at 14, and in turn she became judgmental toward others. Her early experiences with Shine Together (then known as Teen Success) changed all that. She met other moms who were in similar situations, and she made an instant connection with Sarah Villa, an Advocate who had been a young mom and had similar interests.

Vanessa found herself opening up during group meetings with Sarah and other moms, and started to feel more open-minded—about the people around her, and about everything she needed to learn about being a successful mom to her son. It was the start of a path of resiliency and the beginning of a strong connection between Vanessa and Sarah that persists 12 years later. As the longest member of the Shine staff, Sarah is now the Central Valley Regional Director in Fresno, and Vanessa is an Advocate herself in the same office.

Relatability Matters

Sarah was the supportive force Vanessa critically needed when she was 15, raising a baby and taking high school classes while having limited support at home. Sarah knew the struggles young mothers like Vanessa were going through. She had had two children by the time she was 18, an experience that led to a career of supporting and mentoring young moms, first with Planned Parenthood and youth organization Fresno Barrios Unidos, and eventually Shine.

“I had the advantage of the lived experience, and being a young mom myself, there were teachable moments that I would share with them from my personal journey when there were absolutely no programs for myself,” Sarah says. “So that’s why I think I’ve poured my heart and soul into this program.”

Sarah still has the San Francisco 49ers ornament Vanessa made during those initial meetups in the Teen Success program. Making the ornaments is a core memory for Vanessa, the kind of memories she wants to create for the girls she’s helping, in her role as a Shine Advocate. “She did things to make it fun,” Vanessa says about Sarah. “We were learning things but it didn’t seem like a class.” Those learnings included activities around eating healthy and being patient with young children—lessons that were completely new to Vanessa at the time, as she was just a child herself.

“One of the most important things that we did in the group was to keep it down to earth, and make it fun,” Sarah says. “There were lots of laughs, lots of tears, but they knew they had a safe place to be for a couple of hours.”

Vanessa shares another core memory involving Sarah: “I used to get upset when my son was starting to walk and he would go get pans out of the cupboards. She would tell us to turn those moments into activities like musical time.” In fact, Sarah was full of ideas for quality time that didn’t cost money. She knew the moms she was working with were short on cash and needed practical, inexpensive tips.

“She was so patient and she would be like, well, you have to remember he’s a baby. Being kids, too, we don’t think about that,” Vanessa says. “We’re growing ourselves.”

Back then, Vanessa’s support system was limited as her mom had a baby close in age to Vanessa’s son, and her father was initially upset about Vanessa’s pregnancy and skeptical about her plans to graduate high school and pursue her college degree. Vanessa was persistent, however, buoyed by Sarah’s supportive words to show everyone she was capable of achieving her education goals. And she did: Vanessa received her bachelor's degree in criminology-corrections from Fresno State and was recently accepted to San Jose State University to earn a master’s in social work.

“I would tell my high school and college self, ‘You did it. You proved everybody wrong,’” Vanessa says.

Supporting Today's Young Moms

Not only has Vanessa persevered during her own growth journey while raising a 12-year-old, respectable boy, Shine has become stronger and expanded, too, and both Sarah and Vanessa are playing pivotal roles in helping and supporting today’s young moms in the Fresno area.

When meeting young moms now, Vanessa thinks back to the relatability that connected her with Sarah and shares her story as soon as she feels the time is right. “If I feel they’re being timid about saying they got pregnant and feel ashamed of themselves, that when I say, ‘It’s OK. I’m a teen mom, too.’ It is not the end of the world. I always mention Sarah and say she was my Advocate and now the regional director. And this program has been around for years and is doing great things, and it’s expanding. When I was in Teen Success, we didn't have free diapers. We didn’t have a center, we didn’t even have a space for all of us.”

Back then, the Fresno program was limited to a weekly support group, and ended for Vanessa when she finished high school. She wishes she had the services Shine has now that support young moms as they pursue their postsecondary education.

Things have changed dramatically since these two women first met yet their connection still holds strong. “I went off to college and she was still there,” Vanessa says. “We picked up where we left off. You can’t do that with a lot of people.

“I didn’t see her as an Advocate, honestly,” Vanessa adds. “I saw her more like—and I’ll say this today too—she’s my Shine mom.
She is like my mom that raised me. I love my mom, but she wasn’t able to teach me a lot of the things that Sarah taught me that I am able to teach my son now. And I love her for that.”

Early on in their relationship, Sarah took note of Vanessa’s persistence and resiliency. Vanessa was determined to attend a four-year college and managed to do so. Now that Sarah works alongside Vanessa, she is “super proud” of all that Vanessa has accomplished, the ideas she brings to Shine, and how she is a role model to young mothers. “Thank you, Vanessa, for allowing me to recruit you,” Sarah says.

“I’m super, super proud of Vanessa,” Sarah adds. “I’m super excited that Vanessa has joined us as we have a lot to learn from her.”


Shine Together Celebrates Ribbon Cutting Ceremony of Fresno Office

(Milpitas, CA) — Shine Together, Inc. formalized its new name and refined mission with a grand opening ceremony at its Fresno office on Tulare Street today. The ribbon-cutting event reaffirms the organization’s (formerly known as Teen Success) commitment and support of young mothers, from their teens through their early twenties, as they complete their high school education and pursue their postsecondary education.

“We’ve had a strong presence in Fresno since 2020, and have expanded to have our own dedicated space as we continue to support and empower the young mothers in this area,” said Sara Reyes, Executive Director of Shine Together. “The pandemic prevented us from celebrating this achievement earlier, but we are excited to formally mark our place here. As we enter this new chapter as Shine Together, we will continue to work on breaking the cycle of poverty while helping show young moms how they can build a better life for their families.”

Teen mothers are at high risk for not finishing high school or pursuing post-secondary education, and they are more likely to live in poverty. Since its founding in 2011, Shine Together has worked toward breaking this cycle of poverty by supporting young moms. Shine’s rebranding in 2022 clarified that its mission includes moms in their early twenties.

Fresno is one of four high poverty communities served by Shine Together, which also has a presence in San Jose, Sacramento, and Monterey County. The city’s teen birth rate of 19.4 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19 is disproportionately high compared to the state of California (11.4 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19), even as overall teen birth rates have significantly declined in recent years.

Shine Together’s Fresno organization supports 65 young mothers with their education pursuits while helping them develop their parenting skills, enhance their financial literacy, and improve the health and wellness of their families. Shine relies on partnerships within the community to provide supplies and peer support to participants. These partners include Fresno Unified School District, Fresno County’s Babies First Community Action Network, The Children’s Movement, Maternal Wellness Coaliton, Fresno Council on Child Abuse Prevention, CA Health Collaborative Maternal Wellness Coalition (MWC), Fresno County Nurse Family Partnership, and Centro La Familia Advocacy.

About Shine Together

Established in 2011, Shine Together is a nonprofit organization that supports and guides young mothers on a pathway to prosperity. Working toward breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty faced by young families, Shine helps young mothers advance their education, build life and career skills, and nurture their children’s positive development, through one-on-one coaching, peer learning groups, and community workshops. Formerly known as Teen Success, Inc., Shine rebranded in 2022 and has impacted the lives of over 1,600 young mothers and their children.


Shine Together Celebrating Young Moms at Its 11th Annual Luncheon

Shine Together Celebrating Young Moms at Its 11th Annual Luncheon

Shine has awarded more than $39,000 in Educational Scholarships

and direct support to young mothers since 2022

(Milpitas, CA) — Shine Together has awarded over $24,250 in scholarships to young mothers over the past year, as well as $14,761 of direct assistance, for a total impact of $39,511. During Shine’s 11th Annual Scholarship Luncheon, to be held on Thursday, May 18, at Palo Alto Hills Golf and Country Club, we will celebrate young moms accomplishing their goals in pursuit of a post-secondary education. Every year, Shine provides scholarships to graduates of its Teen Success program in support of their post-secondary educational goals.

“We look forward to honoring these inspiring, hardworking moms as they take the next step in their education journey,” said Sara Reyes, Executive Director of Shine Together. “Most of all, we want to celebrate them and all that they have achieved so far, against the odds. Some of the moms we work with will be the first in their families to attend college. It’s a very exciting milestone.”

Participants of Shine Together’s Teen Success program receive ongoing peer support as they finish their high school education while raising a young family. 87% of Shine participants have graduated from high school or are on track to do so, compared to only 38% of young mothers nationwide.

“Shine has been a huge help to me and my babies since the day I joined, whether it be providing support, helping with diapers, or making sure I’m keeping up with school,” said Shine participant Chyann Wilson. “Everyone at Shine is very friendly and welcoming and that’s what makes it perfect for the mothers that need help.”

About Shine Together

Established in 2011, Shine Together is a nonprofit organization that supports and guides young mothers on a pathway to prosperity. Working toward breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty faced by young families, Shine helps young mothers advance their education, build life and career skills, and nurture their children’s positive development, through one-on-one coaching, peer learning groups, and community workshops. Formerly known as Teen Success, Inc., Shine rebranded in 2022 and has impacted the lives of over 1,600 young mothers and their children. shinetogether.org

 


Shine Together's Ribbon Cutting Event in Fresno!

We’re excited to let you know that after 10 years of service to young mothers and their children as Teen Success, Inc., we are transitioning into a new chapter for our organization as Shine Together (Shine)!

Our new name—Shine Together—reflects how we support moms today as we help guide some of them through their teen years and others through their early twenties. We would be honored to have you join us in our Ribbon Cutting Event for Shine Together, Inc. and learn more about the services we offer.

Learn more about the event here.