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.”

Julianna's Story: A Future Reimagined

Today, 22-year-old Julianna is confident as a mom and as a person, but she hasn’t always been that way. It has taken time, support, and encouragement for her to see herself for the amazing person she is. As a high school student, the world is hard enough, but Julianna's world changed dramatically and unexpectedly.

“My life changed directions [when I became pregnant] and I saw things differently. Now, I think, ‘How did I handle all that stress at 16’?”

At the time of her pregnancy, Julianna was a Junior in high school, and she was looking forward to going to college. She visited one university, but she felt like she didn't belong there as a mom.

Finishing high school was challenging and she felt like quitting many times. She returned to school while still breastfeeding her 3-month-old, Alana, and her only option was to pump in the school bathroom. After two weeks of the grueling work of pumping in an environment that didn’t afford her peace of mind, she stopped. Experiences like this made high school a constant struggle between the mother she wanted to be for Alana and the dreams she had for her education.

During this time in her life Julianna found Teen Success, Inc. Although Julianna’s world was shaken at the time of her pregnancy and after having her daughter, she took a leap of faith and joined the program in 2015. Teen Success, Inc. gave her a safe place to express herself and move through the challenges she was facing as a young mom going through school. “The [Advocates] were very motivating. When I thought, ‘Man, I can’t do [school] anymore.’ They said, ‘No, you’re smart. You can do this.” There were times she wanted to quit school and focus on working, but she found encouragement and support from the program Advocates and was inspired by the other young moms in her group. “I saw other girls who were doing [school and parenting] and I thought, ‘I can do it too.’” 

With support from her Advocates and a Teen Success, Inc. Scholarship, Julianna reimagined the future of her education and decided to attend Bakersfield College. During college, she started working at a local restaurant, where she’s a manager today, and took her classes in the evening. After two years, Julianna transferred to CSU Bakersfield with support of a second Teen Success, Inc. Scholarship. In 2021, she graduated with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and has been accepted into a competitive Master’s program in Counseling and Psychology at CSU Bakersfield. 

Even though Julianna started her journey as a mom differently than she’d expected, her daughter has been her motivation all along the way and she wants to be a positive role model for her. She deals with the same stresses and pressures most mothers do, like feeling like she’s spending too much time working on her studies and not with her daughter. These past years have been intense for her to try to balance it all. “I’m always telling [my daughter], ‘I have homework,’ when she wants to play and I feel bad,” Julianna says. “But now she tells her friends, ‘My mommy graduated college.’ I think she understands that it’s an accomplishment.” Although she made many sacrifices along the way, Julianna is happy to have received her degree and its comforting that her daughter is proud of her and looks up to her. 

Beyond High School

Julianna, like most of the young women Teen Success, Inc. serves, have to puzzle through paying for post-secondary education. Figuring out the myriad of services, requirements, scholarships and FAFSA is challenging and their Advocates are essential in helping them come up with a plan that works for their unique situations. Today, Teen Success, Inc. has expanded support for its participants who wish to further their educations by providing educational stipends. If you wish to lean more about this initiative, please click here.​

Julianna’s words of advice to other young mothers going through a similar situation are:

“You can do so much more than you think you’re capable of. Look at me, I didn’t think I’d get my B.A. or be going after my Master’s, but here I am. And if you’re a mom and you’re on the fence about the Teen Success program, trust the process, because now I think, ‘what if I hadn’t gone?’.”  

After she earns a Master’s, Julianna plans to become a licensed therapist and hopes to work with youth in school or in Juvenile Hall. She’s looking forward to getting married to her fiancé next year and Alana, now 5, will be starting Kindergarten in the fall. 

Congratulations to the Class of 2021!

This year 33 young women from Teen Success, Inc. graduated from high school!
These young women overcame every barrier (including a pandemic), challenged every stigma, and made a path to a better life for themselves, and their child thanks to our communities support.

This year, we began supporting all our participants are pursuing post-secondary education with educational stipends and they are studying everything from cosmetology to psychology. We recognized the need for this direct assistance as a critical resource to create economic mobility for their families because it would ease the costs of post-secondary education.

These young women give us so much hope, but we recognize that not all of our program participants remained on track this year and there is much left to do. For some, COVID-19 set their family back in unexpected ways at school, at work, and within their homes. Because of our community, our Advocates can continue to be here for them every step of the way – to help them overcome the setbacks, pursue their dreams, and get the education they deserve.

It’s time to make sure young mothers and their children experience educational equity. Together, we are making sure every young mother can make it to her own graduation day, too. 

Our community showed up to give young mothers the opportunity to create a thriving future for themselves and their children this year. It’s a gift every young mother in high school and in post-secondary education deserves.

Achieving educational equity in this generation won’t be easy, but with our community’s support, our young mothers are well on their way.

If you would like to make an investment in educational equity for young mothers, please click here to donate.

If you prefer, you can make a recommendation to Teen Success, Inc. from your Donor Advised Fund or mail a check to 508 Valley Way, Milpitas, CA 95035.

Teen Success, Inc. is a trusted organization and has earned GuideStar’s Platinum Seal of Transparency. All donations are tax deductible.

Meet the Mom Who's Helping Youth Complete Probation Successfully

The inaugural recipient of the "Honorable Teresa Guerrero-Daley Inspiration Award," Evelyn Gonzalez, is making a positive impact by influencing youth going through probation to make better decisions and successfully their complete probation. 

Watch the video and to hear about her journey from a difficult upbringing, to having her son at 16, landing her dream school, and paying it forward for youth experiencing things like she did.  You can also find a transcript of her inspiring story after the video.

Video Transcript: ​2021 Teen Success, Inc.'s "Honorable Teresa Guerrero-Daley Inspiration Award"My name is Evelyn Gonzales. I am 23 now and I live in San Jose, California. ​

What was your upbringing like?
My dad was alcoholic. He did drugs so we were constantly moving. We also had to go through a lot of stuff, like he left us without money sometimes. Sometimes we saw a lot of violence, a lot of domestic violence. I think from that, not having any positive influences or role models pushed me to kind of follow the same footsteps as my dad.  

Well, I as a minor, I did become involved with like gangs. I was always around them because those are the only kids that you see around, because we had the same life. I was pretty wild, but I got incarcerated. Then when I found out I was pregnant, that was my turning point. That’s where I kind of stopped and turned my whole life around. ​
What were some of the challenges you faced as a young mother?

My challenges were coming in front of old acquaintances, I still live in the same neighborhood that I grew up in. That was one of my biggest challenges I would say. Living where I was living too sometimes because I don't have the most positive family. Sometimes, you know, the problems there, will affect me a lot. Emotionally, I'll get depressed and just, you know, close myself so much. That was another challenge as a whole.  

My son's name, Matthew Gonzales and he is 7. My whole pregnancy, I was incarcerated. It was hard. It was the worst. I spent a lot of time in self-reflection. After I had him, I was on a roll, I finished school. I graduated on time even though I hardly even went to high school. I catched up really quickly, did extra work. At the meantime, I will work in the morning at Macy's. I was working full-time. And you know, when you grew up poor and, and you know, in the Latino community, you don't see, you don't talk about college. You don't see yourself going to college. It's just like, you don't have money, you won't go. When they told me, “You want to go to college and blah, blah, blah,” I don't got money, no way I'm going to go. So, what we do in my culture, we just work, that's it. How did you hear about Teen Success?

The way that I heard about Teen Success was through my probation officer. Teen Success called me and yeah, they, they told me about it. I said, let me see, let me try it. See what happens. 

My relationship with the Teen Success staff it's, I think, pretty strong. It was just like, like if they were you know, your tia or your mom, you know. I felt like a warm vibe, you know. It's like, though they’re  
genuine, so caring, you know, and then you could see the passion in them. And you know, their willingness to help us young moms, they would see the potential, you know, and for that, you know, made you feel good. In what ways has Teen Success supported you and in your career goals?

They have supported me tremendously. Especially, because as a Dreamer, you know, you can't really just get a nice [job], I could, I could get a good job, but they won’t accept me because I'm not born here. But, so I feel like for me, it's just a blessing and I mean, the tuition scholarships, I mean, if it wasn't for that, where am I going to get the money to go to school? So, it has supported me in that aspect. And I can keep going, you know, I don't have to stop. I don't have to cut my education because they're there to help me and back me up financially. Teen Success just offers, like I said, so much help in so many areas for women like us, young mothers. So, for me, it's like, it's like a life coach and now, anywhere I go, they ask me what has helped you get here? You know, it's always Teen Success that I bring up for sure. What are you most proud of? ​

I think what I'm most proud of, because of my good grades, I was accepted to my dream school. That was like a dream. So they tell me, “you got accepted to Santa Clara University,” and I'm like, “Ooooh, okay!” And you know, and you either go there because you're rich, it's a private school, or because you're really, really smart. And I had a friends that tried to get in there and they could pay for it, but, you know, they, they don't get accepted. So I'm like, “why they accepted me?” Well, you know, they didn't even know that I was going to have money to pay for that! How are you involved with your community?
The one [organization] that I always remained involved in would be YC [Youth Center], which is a partnership between Fresh Lifelines for Youth, that's down the street, and Juvenile Probation Department. So what we do there, we hold orientations for the new youth who barely got put on probation. And then, I also share my story to influence them to make better decisions and to successfully finish probation. We get to have part in community councils and meetings. What does being the Hon. Teresa Guerrero-Daley Inspiration Award Recipient mean to you? So, I did win the award which is the Teresa Guerrero-Daley [Inspiration] Award which is for a young mother who's passionate about education and social justice. When Becka told to me about it, like, yeah, you know, thank you for thinking about me! And so that's, that's me. I think that just defines who I am. I love education, never have enough of it. Plus, social justice, it's in my blood. I think that's my calling. That's what I just love doing. I'm really thankful and grateful for them because that also helped me kind of feel more confident about myself, feel better about myself. So yeah, I wanted to say a big shout out and thank you to Teen Success for that.  I do see myself in five years probably doing law school. I really just, I don't know. I just, I feel like that's, that's my calling. In 20 years, I do hope that I'm involved in some type of state or national politics. I do hope that I get to have a seat in our politics. So that's where I see myself in probably, say, like 15 years.  

​I used to feel like a victim, you know, or [people] would hurt me emotionally, mentally, and now it's like I’m kind of proud because now I feel like I can overcome any obstacles. I’m like, “Okay, well, I’ve been through worse. So what's up?” You know?

Kassandra's Story

At 22 years old, Kassandra Perez is looking to finish the course requirements she needs to apply to nursing programs. She could finish in just one more semester, but she's struggling to balance school with a pressing need for financial and emotional freedom for herself and her 6-year-old son, Jonathan.

"I've been looking [for jobs] on Craigslist. A lot of them require two years or more of experience. I need something part-time and flexible so I can take care of Jonathan and go to school," says Kassandra.

Even with a Medical Assisting Certificate from Silicon Valley Career Technical Education (formerly CCOC), Kassandra was turned down for a job as an emergency vehicle driver because of her lack of experience.

Kassandra enrolled in the Teen Success, Inc. program in 2012 while she was pregnant with Jonathan. She received her high school diploma in 2014 from a non-traditional school (along with her Medical Assisting Certificate) because she could get care for Jonathan there. In 2015, she was one of seven young moms in the program who received a Teen Success, Inc. Scholarship.

"What keeps me going is [my son]. If it wasn't for him I might not be going to college."

"Teen Success showed me it's important to speak and read to Jonathan because without an education he would struggle more. They taught me to put Jonathan and school as my first priorities," she says.

Kassandra is facing other challenges to completing her nursing pre-requisites - personal issues, relationship problems, and staying strong mentally for Jonathan.

"Knowing that you have to be an adult and be responsible, a mother, growing up really fast, and still wishing I got the teen experiences, it's a battle." She says. "What keeps me going is [my son]. If it wasn't for him I might not be going to college. I love my son."

Kassandra and fellow Teen Success, Inc. Ambassador Brenda

Jonathan is a kindergartener now. "He's one of the smartest kids in class," Kassandra shares proudly.

"Never forget that education is key because no one can take it away from you." - Kassandra

While she finds her way through school, motherhood, and adulthood, Kassandra still holds hope that other moms like her will make it and that's why she's been an Ambassador for Teen Success, Inc. for over 2 years. She loves getting people to support so Teen Success can reach more young moms.

Kassandra (left) receiving her scholarship from Teen Success, Inc. founder Becky Morgan (right), 2015

"Never stop improving yourself for nobody. Keep doing what’s best for you and for your child. And never forget that education is key because no one can take it away from you. You’re not alone and [our kids are] watching us."