Marissa is a smart, dedicated college student. She expects to graduate from Austin Community College (ACC) next year with an associate’s degree in surgical technology. “I’ve always been interested in the medical field,” she said.
Marissa, who is now 19, started attending ACC when she was 17 years old, shortly after the birth of her second son.
“I gave birth to my first son, who is five, at the age of 14. So I struggled a lot those two years. I gave birth to my second son, who has just turned three yesterday, at 16. And at 16 I graduated pregnant with him. It was incredible. And then I went to ACC at 17, and I’m still there now.”
Marissa and her two sons live on their own with the help of an organization that provides affordable housing and childcare to single mothers who are attending school. She also receives SNAP to help her purchase groceries for her family.
“I’ve been out of my house, like living on my own, since 17. That’s when I started at ACC. It was hard, but I mean, it’s slowly but surely getting better. All this that I’ve done, it’s not, like, paying off, you know what I mean. When I graduate it’s gonna pay off for sure.”
The organization that assists Marissa with housing sent her a flyer to let her know about the turkey distribution where she was interviewed in November. While she spoke to Julia Mandel, a Central Texas Food Bank VISTA member, her youngest son played on the playground.
“One of the staff with the program sent us the flyer, and I was like, okay, that’s very interesting, that would help me out a lot. It was just his birthday, then car payment, just a lot of stuff that piled up on, me and I was kind of scared that I wasn’t, we weren’t, going to be able to have a holiday.” said Marissa.
For the past two years, Marissa has been employed part-time in addition to her school work, but she still manages to cook for her children more often than not. A few years ago, a group at ACC that Marissa attended taught about healthy eating habits. “We learned a lot of different stuff about what’s in our food that affects us. Not just physically, but mentally.”
After that, Marissa cut McDonald’s and other fast foods out of her children’s diet. “I could tell the difference. They would get really – they would act real different. What’s in their food is so important.”
When asked what, aside from food, is her greatest expense concern, Marissa said, “I’d say household items, like cleaning supplies, ‘cause I’m such a clean freak honestly. My favorite thing is Lysol wipes ‘cause they go to daycare. You know, some parents aren’t as clean, and so I like to wipe things down because I cannot afford to miss a day of work. So I would take cleaning supplies because, especially during the winter, everybody gets sick.”
At the end of her interview, Marissa expressed gratitude for the help she receives. “I appreciate them very much, because like I said, I was worried that my boys weren’t going to have a holiday this year. Everything is getting so expensive, it really is, and that’s why I’m going to school because I don’t want to struggle any more. And there’s a lot, not just me, but a lot of different families you know, whether or whatever their background is or their stories, everybody’s gonna struggle at one point.”
As for Marissa and her sons? “It’s been very difficult honestly, like very, very hard. And with two kids, it’s way harder. But I’ve managed, and I’m in a good place in my life right now. But I hope to be better.”
Marissa paused the interview to lean down and speak to her three year-old. “He really wants to do that ladder thing!” She laughs, looking over at the playground playset “He’s so set on it.”
Read Marissa’s full transcript below:
Julia: I have some set questions but you said you have a story to tell. I’d love to hear your story.
Marissa: My name is Marissa [last name], and I’m nineteen. I gave birth to my first son who is five at the age of fourteen. So I struggled a lot those two years, I gave birth to my second son who has just turned three yesterday at sixteen. And at sixteen I graduated pregnant with him. It was incredible, and then I went to [community college] at seventeen, and I’m still there now. So I’ve been going to [community college] for three years now and I plan to graduate in the next year with my surgical technology associate’s degree, so it’s been a long road but I never stopped, cause like between the teenage years, just between fourteen and sixteen it was very, very difficult for me cause so much was going on and then I gave birth to my second child, it was a lot. But I mean I’m still pushing for it and gonna graduate college soon. I’m also in a program called [program name]. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It’s new here, it’s in east Austin, um it’s a four-story complex apartments. It’s very nice, it’s very modern. It provides housing for mothers who are going to school. There’s a lot of requirements we have to meet, but it helps us with daycare, affordable housing, free utilities while we go to school, so–
J: Where you still living at home when you had your first kid?
M: I was back and forth, I mean my first kid I was with my Dad because my Dad raised me. So, until I got sixteen my Dad was like that’s enough, you need to start – even though you’re only sixteen you’ve already made choices, and so that’s where I graduated school, went to college, you know, started working already, but yeah like I’ve been out of my house, like living on my own, since seventeen. That’s when I started at [community college], you know, it was hard, but I mean it’s slowly but surely getting better, like all this that I’ve done, it’s now like paying off, you know what I mean. Especially when I graduate it’s gonna pay off for sure.
J: And you said it’s in surgical–
M: Surgical technology.
J: So what are you going to do with that?
M: It’s pretty much like the surgeon’s assistant, so like handing instruments, helping with the stitching, doing little stuff, yeah. I hope to work in the ER and then maybe move to trauma, but not right now ‘cause they’re so little. So yeah, that would have to be maybe five to ten years from now.
J: Yeah, that’s incredible. Do you plan on being a nurse or anything like that, or?
M: Right now, I don’t want to be a nurse cause right now it’s in high demand, so many people are trying to do it it’s very, very competitive, so me with my two kids, my schedule’s not flexible enough. Maybe when they’re older, but I have a lot of credits already, but not for the– (stops to talk with child).
J: He’s really cute.
M: Thank you.
J: Well that surgical thing sounds super cool.
M: Yeah, it’s very interesting. I’ve been having my eye on it since I was 17. First applied to [community college].
J: What made you interested in it?
M: ‘Cause I was always been interested in the medical field. I have family in the medical field, like aunts and cousins and stuff. I was going through the little catalogs that they have ‘cause I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. (To child) Be careful please! (To Julia) He’s a daredevil.
J: Yeah I can tell.
M: (To child) Can you go down please? Or maybe down the slide, or we’re gonna have to back. Thank you. (To Julia) I was going through the catalog and I was going through the health sciences – I work for the health sciences now.
J: Oh cool!
M: Yeah, I was going through the health sciences and I noticed that there was surg tech area, and pharmacy tech – all the boys wanted to be a pharmacy tech but I realized as the years passed that my math wasn’t good. So just surgical tech kinda caught my eye and the prerequisites for it, they fit me, so.
J: That’s exciting!
M: Yeah, so I’m so ready.
J: And have you been working along the way, in school as well?
M: Yeah, I’ve been working. I’ve actually worked for [the community college] for the past two years. So yeah, it’s a part-time job, so um it’s not a full-time job. My school’s my other half.
J: So what have they had you doing?
M: At first started in an organization called student life. We helped our incoming students, helped with events, and stuff, planning. And then I went to health sciences and now I’m pretty much like I started as an office assistant but now I’m kind of like a receptionist but not yet. I’m in training. Answering calls, doing projects, and doing stuff like that. I’ve met a lot of people along the way
J: And what’s it been like, going through school with two kids?
M: Very hard. I just got into this program that helps me. I mean I had to pay for daycare, [the college] only gave me a portion of it so I had to pay the rest. It’s been very difficult honestly, like very very hard like and with two kids it’s way harder. But I mean I’ve managed and I’m in a good place in my life right now, but I hope to be better. (Speaks to child briefly). He really wants to do that ladder thing! (Laughs). He’s so set on it.
J: So it’s been you on your own with the two kids in school.
M: Yeah, my parents, I mean my Dad, he helped me at first when I gave birth to my child at fourteen I was still a child myself, but I’ve been it’s been me by myself, it’s been very hard.
J: It’s so impressive.
M: Yeah, thank you. (To child) No sir, no sir! I think we need to go back now. Okay, then can we find something else to do? (To Julia) We can go talk while we watch from over there if you want. (To child) Let’ scoot down, let’s play on the spring maybe.
J: So how long have you been coming to get food assistance?
M: Actually I haven’t. See that’s the thing, this is my first time coming. One of the staff with the [program] sent us the flier, and I was like, okay that’s very interesting, that would help me out a lot, because it was just his birthday, then car payment, just a lot of stuff that pile up on me and I was kind of scared that I wasn’t, we weren’t going to be able to have a holiday. So that’s my first time coming, that’s why I came so early ‘cause I didn’t know,
J: Yeah, we have a 175 turkeys and you’re number sixty-one.
Cool. Oh wow, yeah I came early.
J: We have a normal mobile food pantry distribution here. I think once a month. So you should really look because we do have pantries everywhere that are partners that buy the food are really separate entities but we pull a truck up here like once a month with food so you should really look at coming right here and I think you’d qualify but we don’t even have a lot of restrictions or anything like that, it’s just saying I need help and you get help.
M: I appreciate you guys doing this cause like I said I was scared and letting the holidays creep up on me so fast when you’re so busy.
J: Yes, absolutely. So are you on any other government benefits, like SNAP?
M: WIC, SNAP, and they have Medicaid.
J: I’ve heard WIC is very tricky to use.
M: What do you mean?
J: Like they specify brands.
M: Oh yeah, they actually have um that I know, they have two little markets where you can go and shop specifically for that kind of stuff.
J: Oh that’s really helpful.
M: Oh yes, cause when I go to WalMart, like HEB there are so many brands sometimes they don’t even mark the WIC so that’s very hard.
J: This is your first time coming, so that’s great that you’re here. Thank you for talking your first time coming, I really appreciate it. So aside from food what would you say is the greatest need concerning you and your kids, like expenses and that kind of thing?
M: I’d say, household items, like cleaning supplies, cause I’m such a clean freak honestly. My favorite thing is Lysol wipes cause they go to daycare, and so the daycare is on campus. It’s on the first floor. So you know there’s a whole bunch of kids living there, it doesn’t bother me but you know some parents aren’t as clean, and so I like to wipe things down because I cannot afford to miss days of work. So I would take cleaning supplies because especially during the winter everybody gets sick.
J: I remember Mom saying that I’d come home from daycare like when I was three years old, sick, just like every week.
M: Yeah that was the problem cause they’ve been going to school since they were little, I mean, since they were little. And it has helped them, educationally, and like the sickness is something that I’m very scared about.
J: Yeah, definitely. Would you say what hopes do you have for yourself and your kids for the future?
M: What do you mean?
J: What hopes do you have, where you want to see yourself going, where you want to see your kids going?
M: I would like to see a difference in my pay, I’m not well off but for me being this young and starting off I think I’m doing okay. I hope to have them in my own home, not have to worry about things. Cause I’ve worked so hard on just becoming somebody for them cause I don’t want them to go through the same things that I went through.
J: Yeah, that’s great. And then I also work on health and nutrition at the Food Bank so I wanted to ask you a couple questions about that. Do you have any health issues that you and your kids are worried about? You’re young, so– it’s a little different.
M: No, there’s no health issues that I’m very concerned about. We’ve stopped eating fast food. A couple years ago they were very big on McDonald’s, so we haven’t eaten McDonald’s since 2014. It doesn’t sound very long but we completely shut it out of our diet.
J: That’s good. That’s a good solid life.
M: Yeah, it was too much. I could tell the difference. They would get really – they would act real different. Just what’s in their food is so important. This past month we didn’t cut off candy but they usually don’t eat candy as much. But there’s a lot of things that I kind of, cause I learned as well when I was in that organization, we learned a lot of different stuff about what’s just in our food that affects us. Not just like physically but mentally.
J: That’s awesome that they teach you that. Can you tell me what the name of that group is again?
M: Student Life. It’s at [the college].
J: And the place that you live, [program name], I’ll have to look in to see if we’re doing anything with them. They sound amazing.
M: It is, it really is.
J: So do you know how to cook?
M: I do, I do. Mostly, I’m not going to lie to you, they like simple stuff. But then there’s some days I have to like, cause sometimes I don’t know if it’s like their picky days, I don’t cook. Like I just make a little pizza or something. But for the most part I do cook.
J: I’m guessing you don’t have a lot of time for cooking.
M: Actually so I get off work around four so it’s perfect timing for me to cook a meal for them, and then shower, bed right after. Sometime, I make time for them to eat.
J: That’s great. My last question would be if you could say anything to the donors of the Food Bank what would you say to them?
M: That I appreciate them very much, because like I said I was worried that my boys weren’t going to have a holiday this year. Everything is getting so expensive, it really is, and that’s why I’m going to school because I don’t want to struggle any more. And there’s a lot, not just me, but a lot of different families you know, whether or whatever their background is, or their stories, everybody’s gonna struggle at one point.
J: I think you’ve answered all these questions, so the demographic stuff: You’re single?
J: You’re 19, and how do you identify with race?
J: And you are employed, and you work at–
M: Now I work at Health Science, at [the college].
J: It’s just you and your two boys?
J: And you are just about to graduate college.
J: Sometimes we like to follow up with people, so are you willing to be contacted in the future by the Food Bank?
M: Yes. And you know what, I think you should get in touch with that program because they do a lot of different fundraising as well, they are in touch with a lot of different organizations, it’s so amazing.
J: And you spell your name with S’s?
J: Yeah, I’ll definitely get in touch with them and you gave me your email address, right?
M: Yes ma’am.
J: I will send you our calendar of mobile food pantries so that you will know when we’re coming out here.
M: Yeah I don’t speak Spanish. I think the one up there was Spanish. If you could please do that.