Looking at Holly Spoonley today, her life probably doesn't seem too remarkable.
She's a happily married mother of four. She has a good job as a nurse. At age 39, life is good.
In fact, at a time of year when we at the Sentinel usually bombard you with gut-wrenching and tear-jerking stories of human need, you may be wondering why I'm even introducing her to you.
Well, because Holly could've very easily become one of those hard-luck stories.
That's what happens to many girls who get pregnant too young.
And that is precisely what happened to Holly 23 years ago.
She was 16, a sophomore — and with child.
Things could've gone typically awry.
But they didn't — thanks in part to the BETA Center.
BETA is a nonprofit organization that helps pregnant teens stay in school and learn to be a good mother.
And it is one of dozens of agencies that you, the readers of the Orlando Sentinel, have helped support through donations to the Orlando Sentinel Family Fund Holiday Campaign.
Holly remembers the painful moment she told her mother she was pregnant. In fact, she still sheds tears talking about it.
Back then, she was young, scared — and ignorant.
No one had told her much about sex. So when she no longer could button her jeans, it took her quite a while to realize that her relationship with the boy down the street might have something to do with that.
"I know it sounds kind of stupid now," she recalled. "But I just really didn't know."
Fortunately, BETA allowed Holly to stay in school, attending classes at the campus on Lake Underhill Road in eastern Orlando.
BETA CEO Ruth Patrick explains that schooling has been a core mission at the 35-year-old agency for a simple reason: "Education unlocks the door to so many opportunities."
It also helps many girls break the cycle of abuse and neglect, which most have encountered in their own lives.
BETA has a residential facility that houses 24 girls at a time. And it educates more than 100 pregnant teens and new moms on its campus, which is affiliated with Orange County Public Schools. The agency's most impressive stat: a 100 percent graduation rate in recent years.
But BETA does more than teach these girls how to read and write. It also teaches them how to be a good mother.
It's the nurturing that Holly finds so appealing that, two decades later, she still volunteers there twice a month.
"I see teenage girls who know nothing — absolutely nothing — about raising a baby," she said. "So I tell the girls: You can do this. You just need to stay focused."
Holly also views BETA's existence as a crucial alternative to abortion — an assurance to girls who keep their babies that someone will be there to help them.
Unfortunately for BETA, while the fight to ban abortion remains strong, BETA's funding has not.
In the past three years, it has dropped from $3 million to $1.5 million. Staffing has been cut.
Still, Holly and other volunteers continue to do their part.
One of her key messages is that she loves everything about her life — most certainly including her four children, ages 9, 11, 19 and 22.
"I would've done it all the same," she says. "But I would've done it later."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun