Fewer than 2% of teen mothers will earn a college degree before they turn 30, which is why Nicole Lynn Lewis started Generation Hope nine years ago.
She wanted young parents to know that despite the challenges, college is a realistic option.
Lewis got pregnant her senior year of high school.
“Like many young women in that situation, I heard your life is over and you’re not going to go to college,” she said.
But she knew becoming a teen mom wasn’t where her story ended.
“I started at the College of William & Mary when my daughter was a little under 3 months old and I remember stepping foot on that campus and thinking these feet don’t belong here,” she said.
The next few years brought a lot of dark moments.
“Getting up to the cash register and my card was declined and having to push her out into the parking lot with no idea of how I was going to feed her that night,” Lewis said.
But she held on to hope, and after graduating, she wanted to create opportunities for other teen moms and dads who wanted to go to college.
“What became apparent very quickly was that there was no organization that was focused on teen parents getting their college degree, and that just floored me,” she said.
So she started Generation Hope.
“While we're helping their parent become a college graduate, we're simultaneously helping get that child ready for kindergarten,” Lewis said.
More than 80% of their scholars get jobs within six months of graduating.
Tanazia Matthews had her son when she was 15. Her Generation Hope mentor was determined to get her through school.
“She also helped with tuition, so because I went to Trinity, she paid $2,400, so $1,200 a semester,” Matthews said.
Watching mom made her son, Jahleel, realize anything is possible.
“My son knows that college is an option no matter what., and I feel like GH helps us prepare our children, not only for kindergarten with next generation, but for college,” Matthews said.
The hope Lewis had for herself ended up changing hundreds of lives.
“What would I tell my younger self?” she pondered. “There are great things ahead. That's what I would say, especially in those difficult moments where it’s hard for you to see through the next 24 hours that there are going to be things that will surpass your expectations.”