A different direction, a changed life, a positive future
At the end of her sophomore year of high school in West Dallas, Maria began to struggle with alcohol and drugs. She tried to numb herself from the stress and pain of seeing her older brother in and out of jail.
Maria lived in a community with high rates of violence, drugs, and teen pregnancy. "I didn't care anymore," she recalled. "I had given up."
Then she learned of the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) and its focus on helping young people make a positive change in their community. She knew it was for her. Through YEP, she focused on community needs, did research, proposed solutions, and became an advocate.
"I just don’t want other teenagers to go down the path that I was taking because not everybody can get out," Maria said. "Not everybody can realize, 'OK, this is a mistake. This is wrong.'"
She wants to finish high school, go to college, and become a lawyer. "I want to make a change," she said. "I want to be to the person that people with low incomes can go to and feel safe and feel like they're going to get justice."
Maria is in the top 10 percent of her class, plays in her school's band, participates in Toastmasters, and serves as a cheerleader, in addition to her involvement with YEP.
"I think [YEP] is important because eventually our voices are going to be heard and motivate the community to step out and... fight for a better community," she said. "Fight for what they believe."
Such support of young people is important because "kids are the future," Maria said. "They are the future presidents, doctors, lawyers. What are we going to do if they all go the wrong path? There's already enough crime and pregnancy and dropouts out there."
Maria's change in life began when people began encouraging her to better herself, including through YEP. "It helped," she said. "That's probably why I’m here in this program."