Delia Rodriguez said one of the biggest challenges of her life was when she had to tell her parents she was pregnant as a high school junior.
She soon had the life-changing realization that her life wasn’t only about her – it was about her child and what she was going to do to better her life for him.
Rodriquez is now the co-founder, director and CEO of United at Peace, a nonprofit organization that works with youth and families.
She said she continued going to high school until two days before giving birth to her son. She gave birth her senior year and graduated with her class before attending McHenry Community College.
“It was not easy,” she told a group of high school students Friday morning at Jacobs High School in Algonquin. “I took my son with me everywhere I went. ... I learned to type one-handed because I had a baby in one arm at 1 o’clock in the morning, feeding him while I was typing up reports with the other.”
Rodriguez was speaking to students representing the 10 schools in the Fox Valley Conference who attended a leadership conference.
“No matter what hurdles are thrown your way, as long as you have motivation and determination, anything can be accomplished,” she said during her presentation.
About 250 students were nominated for the conference by their teachers, administrators, coaches and club directors for being “positive role models,” said Emma Placzkowski, a teacher at Jacobs who helped organize the conference.
The day included team-building exercises, breakout sessions and a panel of community leaders invited by organizers to give their advice to students.
Panelist Chris Reed, president of the New Directions Addiction Recovery Services in Crystal Lake and president of the Northern Illinois Recovery Center, told students he struggled with substance abuse issues and his mental health, so his leadership abilities did not come into play until after he graduated.
Reed said his high school experience played a big role in developing his character, which has made him a good leader.
“Doing the work, laying the foundation now can place you in a position to be a great leader, even though your current situation in high school may not reflect that,” he said.
Izma Casubhoy, a sophomore at Crystal Lake Central High School, said the speakers were inspiring.
“They all had different times in their life when they were really challenged,” she said. “They never gave up.”
Natalie Virjl, also a sophomore at Central, said she was kind of shocked that she was picked for the conference, but it was cool knowing teachers and administrators saw she had leadership skills.
“Hopefully, that can encourage me and inspire me to show leadership in the future,” she said. “We work hard every day in school to try and make that good impression, and seeing and hearing from people that you’re being noticed is always great.”