Trying to keep up with the responsibilities of school and family is a formidable task, especially when you are a teenager. This sort of balancing act is an all too familiar routine for young mothers and parents attending the Lolita Lebrón Family Learning Center (FLC), an educational program addressing the needs of adolescent parents in Humboldt Park. The program has been in existence since 1993, when it served women aged 14-45 with children seven years of age or younger. In its current form, the program offers high school coursework, parenting workshops, on-site childcare, and parent-child activities to young parents, mostly mothers.
Over the past 18 years, many mothers have crossed the FLC’s threshold, with hopes of achieving their high school diploma and improving their life circumstances, not just for themselves, but for the future of their children. Hundreds of women have graduated from the FLC and have gone on to be successful in a variety of professions, including education, social work, and healthcare; many have also transformed their personal lives and made significant changes, such as leaving abusive relationships and becoming more independent.
One such graduate is Maria Lopez, who graduated from the FLC in 1995. More than 15 years later, she was invited to return to the FLC and share her experiences with current students. Now 50 years old, she gave birth to her first child when she was 19. She enrolled in the FLC when she was 35 and had her fourth child.  She stated that her favorite aspect of being involved in the FLC was  “learning [about my] culture” and what “lots of Puerto Ricans go through, especially Pedro Albizu Campos “(who is also the namesake of the high school affiliated with the FLC). She described herself as “not hav[ing] that knowledge” before she attended the FLC.  In the years since completing the program, she has enrolled in college and served as a drug/addiction counselor for 10 years.

On Friday September 23rd, Maria shared with young women at the FLC how she changed her life by enrolling in the program. She exuded warmth and energy as she encouraged young women to reach their goals. This presentation was the inaugural session in a mentorship series, the brainchild of Danette Sokacich, the current director of the FLC and Laura Ruth Johnson, the first director of the program. Afterward, when asked what she hoped the young mothers would take away from her session, Maria responded: “just finish what we’ve started … even though there were obstacles in our way.”
If you are a graduate of the FLC and are interested in sharing your experiences with current students, please contact Danette Sokacich at 312.532.4684 or email danettes@pedroalbizucamposhs.org.

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