Bridging Gaps for Teen Parents

After giving birth at 15, during her sophomore year of high school, Paola Ordonez had to figure out how to raise a daughter as a single mom and still be able to pursue her educational dreams. She found support from family and AltaMed Youth Services, and now, at 21, she has graduated with four associate’s degrees from East Los Angeles College (ELAC).

AltaMed Youth Services gave Paola the opportunity to complete one year of parenting workshops before transitioning to the AltaMed Bridge program, which helps teen parents stay on track with their education through one-on-one mentorship and financial support through a program stipend. With a network of support around her and the stipend funds to purchase a laptop for her schoolwork, Paola graduated from high school and was ready to start her college journey at ELAC.

As a first-generation student, Paola found herself struggling in the transition from high school to college. Her Bridge case manager, Thelma Martinez, helped her find the direction she needed to navigate different career paths and explore opportunities to further her dream of working in law enforcement.

In 2023 Paola graduated from community college with a 3.5 GPA and four associate’s degrees—an AA and AA-T in Administration of Justice, an AA in Social and Behavioral Sciences, and an AA in Natural Sciences. She now plans to finish her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice at Cal State Los Angeles, and plans to explore law enforcement careers in the FBI.

In 2019, she shared her experience with the Youth Services program at a conference for the Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health initiative in Sacramento. “AltaMed gave me an opportunity to reinvent myself and become not only a successful parent, but also a hardworking and intelligent woman,” Paola told the group. Looking back at her experience, she wants others in similar circumstances to know that “being a teen parent doesn’t define you.”

The Heart of the Bridge Program

Thelma and Paola

Paola displays her degrees alongside her AltaMed Youth Services case manager, Thelma Martinez.

Thelma Martinez, case manager for teen parents, shares her mission to empower students through education, “I emphasize the idea that it is essential to prepare for the future by investing in education today. By encouraging young parents to pursue their educational goals, we can help them to build a strong foundation for themselves and their families, and to create a brighter future for everyone.”

The Youth Services Mission

The AltaMed Youth Services program has been working for more than 30 years to ensure pregnant teens and young parents have access to safe living conditions, basic needs, and parenting resources in their community. Participants come from a variety of backgrounds, such as single-parent and two-parent households with children ranging from a few months old to toddler age.

Building on the framework of a one-year parenting and life skills curriculum, AltaMed Youth Services has developed and implemented the AltaMed Bridge program to see clients through to the next phase of their life journey.

The AltaMed Bridge program ensures youth have the tools to thrive through higher education. With the guidance of an academic advisor, program participants benefit from a mentor who can help them navigate the challenges of continuing their education while managing parenthood. The previous Bridge cohort supported 70 Bridge participants as they attended community college, seven who attended a four-year university and nine who attended vocational schools.

The program has a vision to provide Bridge students with laptops to support their educational and career-search efforts. In future years it aims to expand Youth Services programming by adding a third year focused on workforce development to help parents access AltaMed’s broad array of health career pathways and leadership programming.

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