Elizabeth Arizaga, a 2011 graduate of Kennett High School and the Chester County Technical College High School, had a simple message for the teenage mothers recently gathered at the YoungMOMs meeting in Kennett Square: Finishing high school is an absolute must.
It was not, however, the first time Arizaga offered advice to her peers: She was also the student speaker at both Kennett Area High School's and the technical college's 2011 commencement ceremonies.
Elizabeth Arizaga told the young moms that unlike her mother, she did not want working at a fast food restaurant to be her only career option.
“It’s not a job my mother wants to have, but she doesn’t have a choice,” Arizaga explained to the women gathered at the YoungMOMs meeting. “But I know I have a choice, and I know all of you do too.”
According to Lisa MacMain, program director for YoungMOMs, Arizaga's message resonated with the attending mothers because they are very much alike. They are the same age, have the same hometown and, for many, the same Hispanic heritage. But while Arizaga's path is leading to employment with Horace Mann Insurance and the pursuit of a college degree, many of young mothers in the audience are struggling just to stay in high school.
“Our program is designed to offer teenage moms support, encouragement and resources to reach their full potential as women and mothers,” said MacMain. “I try to put role models before them that they can relate to. So, it was really meaningful for someone like Elizabeth, who is a contemporary and has accomplished so much, to come out and show an interest in them.”
As the child of parents who did not have the opportunity to go further than middle school in their education, Arizaga said her motivation to succeed is fueled by their example.
“I don’t see working at Wendy’s in my future and I know you don’t either,” she explained. “For each of you, I think your motivation is your child and I know you want to give them everything your parents couldn’t give you. My best advice is to stay in school.”
It was at the suggestion of James Fusco, finance instructor at TCHS, that Arizaga ended up speaking at the YoungMOMs meeting: “I thought Elizabeth was someone who could provide a real positive message to these young women. When I asked her, she leapt at the chance without any hesitation,” he said.
After experimenting with the Health Occupations and Police Sciences programs, Arizaga discovered her passion in the Finance Academy at the Chester County Technical College High School.
“I love TCHS because it gives you the chance to experiment with what you want to go to college for and what you want to do with your life,” said Arizaga. “It taught me that life is full of choices and opportunities, but you have to be smart and take advantage of them.”
Arizaga plans to study business: First at Delaware County Community College and then later at Temple University while working part-time at Horace Mann Insurance.
“I want to be more than just ordinary and I want to be more than just an office assistant at Horace Mann Insurance,” she said to a round of applause. “I want to be a boss at Horace Mann Insurance and have my own assistant!”
YoungMOMs is a partnership initiative of the Garage Community and Youth Center in Kennett Square.