Darnisha Ray originally connected with our program through a social worker after giving birth to her first child, Aniya at St. Mary’s Hospital five years ago. Sixteen years old at the time, she also suffered complications during her pregnancy; doctors had to perform an emergency C-section after she contracted lupus. Her daughter, now a healthy five-year-old, weighed just three pounds when she was born. Darnisha’s mother passed away from breast cancer when she was twelve, leaving her to take care of her younger siblings with very little long-term family support.

After the birth of her daughter, she moved in with a friend’s mother and graduated from Mehlville High School in 2015, before attending cosmetology school immediately after. She had her second daughter, Nazaria, just over a year ago. “My mother taught me how to be strong. I guess I’m just that kind of person,” she says, debating whether to write a book about her life one day, when time and emotional capacity permit.

In addition to raising her two girls, Darnisha also works for a local catering company at Enterprise Center downtown and is in the midst of completing coursework to become a pharmacy technician. Her choice to put faith in the greater good when faced with adversity, instead of what can go wrong, is immediately apparent. “If sharing my story could help change somebody else’s life for the better, I want to tell it,” she says.  

 Darnisha and her eldest daughter Aniya

Darnisha and her eldest daughter Aniya

What has it meant to you to have the support of Helping Hand Me Downs in your journey of motherhood?

When I got out of the hospital with my first child, Miss Stephanie [Williamson, founder of Helping Hand Me Downs] was like a stepmom and a mentor to me. I’ve been in my apartment now for four years, and when I first moved in I reached out to Stephanie through the program and she brought so much more than just clothes and baby essentials. She knew I didn’t have furniture and I’d been sleeping on the floor, so she brought me a bed for the baby, and one for me that a friend had donated. She also brought some other furniture, blankets, sheets, covers, pots, pans, books and toys; all kinds of things.  

I was going through a storm at that time in my life, trying to keep my head up for the next blessing. I was put through a lot at a young age and had to grow up really fast. Overall I learned that the program and the people who run it will always been there for me, regardless of what is happening in my life. And even if I go a long time without asking for help, it’s always there.

So few mothers who get pregnant in high school actually graduate. You graduated from in 2015 and went on to college immediately after. What kept you so motivated, and what are your dreams for the future?

I really don’t know. It was incredibly difficult, but I was just determined. I moved in with a friend’s mom, who helped me set up day care and things like that. There were days I wanted to just give up, and she wouldn’t let me. After my mother died I had to take care of my younger siblings, which is how I learned how to raise kids. In the case of my daughters, I definitely do the most, but both of their fathers are involved—they’re willing to do their part. God puts us through all kinds of things for different reasons.

As far as what I’d like to do in the future, right now I’m at a bit of a standstill. I had to take some time off from school to work full-time and I had some babysitting issues, but I’ve been chipping away at my degree to become a pharmacy technician, which I plan to finish next year.   

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How has motherhood changed you?

It changed me dramatically, for the best; even when life feels like it’s at its hardest. Motherhood to me is like planting flowers. When you leave, you’ve created something beautiful for the world and it’s your job to make sure they grow, and grow with them. I’m able to have peace with whatever happens in this life because I’m looking up to something else. The spirit is more than anything we can imagine. There is negativity, but I don’t let that affect my mindset, even if it’s impacting my immediate surroundings. I didn’t have two girls to fail them, or me. They are an image of me. I don’t look in the mirror everyday—I look at them.  

What advice would you give to moms who are considering the program, who are where you’ve been?

I would tell them to work hard to keep a positive mindset for their children. That’s the best thing you can do for them, regardless of what anyone else around you is doing. You want to keep them unharmed and innocent, which often means you have to take on the bulk of the hardship. If there’s help available to you that will impact you and your children for the better, use it. And don’t abuse it.