When I was 15 years old I found out I was pregnant. I was shocked, scared and just sick to my stomach, no not from the pregnancy but from the thought of having to tell my parents. So I decided to run away. I didn’t know where to go at first but after a hysterical discussion with the father of my unborn child we decided to run away together to California. Needless to say I had not thought this through. What was I thinking? How would this work out? What have I done? I was drowning in my feelings of angst and fear. After a few days and threats by my parents to call the police and have the father of my unborn child arrested, I returned home. Or so I thought.

Pulling into the driveway of my home I felt my mouth salivating from the nausea. I was trembling inside. I had to face the music , I had to tell my parents, face to face, what I had done. I opened the door to my house and nearly tripped on several white trash bags all over the entry way to the front door. I thought to myself, are my parents giving things to the needy or are they just cleaning house. Upon taking a closer look I realized all of these white trash bags contained my personal belongings. My clothes, shoes, room décor, everything. I felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach. I was heartbroken. What all of these trash bags meant to me was that I was no longer welcome in this place I once called my home, I was no longer loved, I was no longer their daughter. That my life could easily be packed up in white trash bags and removed.

This is where my life as a homeless teen begins. I said to myself what am I going to do, where am I going to go? Who is going to take care of me? Out of necessity I moved in with the father of my unborn child. I hardly knew him. We dated, if you even call it that, for 2 months. His mother reluctantly took me in her home, mostly because her son asked her too. So I moved in with my white trash bags. I was embarrassed, heartbroken and shocked. How could my parents do this to me? How could they just throw me away like that? I was their daughter, wasn’t I?

After a couple of awkward and hostile months at my new mother in laws, it was clear I was no longer welcome there either. But this time the father of my unborn child would rent us an apartment and we moved out together. At the age of 15 I was on my own. I had no idea what life had in store for me. To say the least, I struggled ,but all the while I knew the only way I was ever going to make anything of myself was to finish school. I went to the Teenage Parent Program or TAPP. I thought that this would suit me just fine. I was a teen, I was teenage parent. I hated it. While there I saw a flyer for Youth On Their Own, I had heard of this program but didn’t really know what it was about. Again, I thought to myself, I am a youth and I am on my own. So I inquired through the school counselor.

Once I found out that I could receive a stipend for attending regularly and for getting good grades, I never missed class and always worked my hardest. This helped galvanize my existing motivation to complete high school. I couldn’t believe there was an organization like this, that cared so much about students finishing high school that they would pay them to stay and finish school. I went on to attend and graduate from the University of Arizona, receiving a bachelors in Political Science with a minor in History. My last semester of college I did an internship in the office of Congressman Raul Grijalva. I now work for the Mayor of Tucson, Jonathan Rothschild.

I am living proof that this organization works, I was a youth on their own, I finished school and went on to college and consider myself to be fairly successful. Youth On Their Own will always hold a special place in my heart. As will fellow youth on their own because I know what it’s like, I was once in their shoes.

Susanna Alvarez-Hadden, YOTO Alum