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‘Against All Odds’ puts teen moms on road to success

By CJ HADDAD - | May 26, 2023

Against All Odds, Inc. founder Dayra “Dee” Dominguez with husband Mario Dominguez. The Southwest Florida non-profit will hold a fundraising event at Collaboratory in Fort Myers this weekend aimed towards helping teen parents with scholarships and living expenses. Tickets for the event are $50 and can be purchased on Eventbrite by searching “Women’s Empowerment Networking Forum.” PHOTO PROVIDED

A Southwest Florida non-profit started by a Cape Coral resident is working to help teen parents navigate challenges and provide tools for success.

Against All Odds, Inc., created by Dayra “Dee” Dominguez, will host the second annual Women’s Empowerment Networking Forum this Saturday at Collaboratory in Fort Myers from 1 to 5 p.m.

The fundraising event is aimed towards helping local teen parents with scholarships and living expenses. The day will feature a large guest speaker panel, headlined by keynote speaker Shalonda Washington.

AAO provides financial support, resources, and empowerment for local teen parents. With May being Teen Pregnancy Prevention Awareness Month, speakers will touch on topics such as “It’s great to wait,” encouraging attendees to find their passion, and to provide support for those who have had a child at a young age.

All funds raised will go towards scholarships for local teen parents, as well as providing support services throughout the year. There will be raffle prizes, food, and live entertainment.

Dominguez, 43, had her first child at 15 and her second at 17. She and her husband, who have been together for 29 years and are high school sweethearts, are together still. Both his and her family left her home state when their first child was born. They essentially had to fend for themselves.

“It’s been difficult, it’s been hard,” Dominguez said. “But we’re Hispanic… the ‘American Dream’ was just embedded in us. You have to work hard, purchase a house, your white picket fence, have a family. We did all that, we just started super early. We’ve been very blessed to be able to work and provide for our kids.”

Dominguez said a “turning point” in her life came when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer at 35. She said up until that point her only purpose was to be the best mother she could be. Dominguez, having always wanting to be a nurse, decided to enroll in nursing school and graduated at 40. She has been working for Lee Health for a total of 10 years, and is now a registered nurse working at Health Park in the mother/baby department.

“When I graduated from nursing school, I felt the need and the urge to go back and kind of just talk to (teen parents) and let them know, ‘Hey, I’ve been in your seat, but look at me know. It took me a long time, but you can still achieve your dreams,'” Dominguez said.

“I was told that I would never amount to anything by the adults in my life and close relatives,” she added. “It was a very dark time and (my husband and I) were basically left by ourselves. We were secluded from the family for a little bit because we were ‘bad examples.’ So, I wanted to become the mentor and the person that I didn’t have as a teen mom.”

AAO was created as a 501-c3 and at the non-profit’s first event last year, was able to provide three scholarships to local teen moms. Dominguez is hoping to be able to provide even more this year. She said the event isn’t necessarily for only teen moms, but males as well. Her husband is getting involved and offering a mentorship for male teen parents as well.

“I have all of these resources I have to offer these teens,” Dominguez said. “I know there is a need in our community, and I’m just trying to fill that need.”

Being such a young mother, Dominguez knew she didn’t want her surroundings as a youth to be what her own children would experience. She and her husband worked hard to get out of dangerous areas and unfavorable living situations.

“I didn’t know what the positive side (of life) was, but I knew what the negative was,” she said. “I always knew I wanted better for my children than what I had. I didn’t want to become a statistic.”

Being a gifted student, Dominguez utilized her potential and eventually overcame the odds, which is the main reason behind the organization’s name.

“I wanted to prove (my doubters) wrong, and that’s why ‘Against All Odds’ is the name, because I feel that my husband and I, we beat all the odds. It was not easy. We didn’t know what we were doing but we wanted better for ourselves and our children.”

Working in the department she does at Health Park, Dominguez said she sees a lot of teen moms who aren’t aware of resources available to them. As a graduate of the Lee Adolescent Mothers Program in Fort Myers, she said it’s tough to be moved to a separate school and miss out on life milestones such as prom.

Lakeland resident and founder/president of Mentoring Agency for Maternal Adolescents Inc., Altrichia Cook Wilcox, said she resonates with Dominguez’ efforts, as she, too, was a teen mom, and will share her story at the event.

Wilcox became pregnant in her senior year of high school at age 17.

“Though I was young, me and my now husband knew that we had to pursue our college education in order to create a solid foundation for our son,” she said.

Wilcox was connected with Dominguez through mutual friends and quickly learned they had a lot in common.

“I commend Dee for the amazing work that she is doing to leave her mark throughout Lee County,” Wilcox said. “It is not easy to have a heart to help others as it requires funds to operate and host events. It takes a special person to keep going, make a difference and help shape the lives of others. Even if you cannot attend, the next generation needs this dose of empowerment to help them as we approach summer. Although having a baby at young age doesn’t prohibit success, it can certainly delay it. Sponsoring a teen to attend would make a substantial impact.”

Wilcox attended Florida State University and she raised her son while earning her Bachelor’s degree in 2009 while being part of multiple university programs such as student government. She furthered her education by attending Florida A&M University where she received her Master of Social Work, graduating in 2011 with a desire to be a clinician.

“I encourage young mothers, teens, and all of those whom I encounter to adopt the ‘success is my only option’ mantra to defy the odds as a young mom or to simply achieve success,” Wilcox said.

Tickets for the event are $50 and can be purchased on Eventbrite by searching “Women’s Empowerment Networking Forum.”

For more information on AAO, Inc., visit www.againstalloddsinternational.org.

Collaboratory is at 2301 Jackson St. in Fort Myers.