Dark thoughts consumed her mind. She thought of her family and saw an alcoholic and abusive father, her silent, beaten down mother, and imprisoned brothers. She looked at herself and saw an 18-year-old girl in a destructive relationship and a dropout who was barely making ends meat.

Then she thought of her three children and she saw a glimmer of light in the midst of all the darkness. They offered her something that no one else could.


Zulma Ciscomani, now 37 years old, is a woman of confidence, compassion and genuineness. She has been married to her husband, Mario, for five years and remains a loyal mom to her three children: Yesenia, Blanca and Louis who are all now between the ages of 19 and 22. While her children attend school, Zulma works full-time as a caregiver and occasionally volunteers at Free Ever After – a nonprofit organization that helps rescue girls from pornography and sex trafficking.

Her life is stable and good. Despite all that she has gone through, Zulma has continued to move forward, succeed, and in the end – be happy. It is for those reasons that Zulma wants to tell her story.

“I want to tell my story because there’s hope. There is no need to stay quiet,” said Zulma. “There is a light at the other side of the tunnel and I hope that this article does impact a lot of girls and guys.”

Zulma’s story starts at the age of 13. Ever since she can remember, Zulma lived in a verbally and sexually abusive home. To her it was normal. Having parents who cared little about her education, where she was or who she was with, was also normal. At the age of 13 she met her boyfriend and a year later she was pregnant and had a miscarriage.

When she was 15, Zulma had her first child, a baby girl. A year later she had another girl and at age 18, a boy. She decided to move in with her boyfriend. At the time, she was happy, because she was away from her abusive father. That feeling of happiness soon faded though once she realized who her boyfriend really was.

“He was 17 at the time and didn’t really know. He didn’t know what being a father meant,” said Zulma, who added that he ended up going to prison for five years because of drugs. “He came out for a year and didn’t want to have anything to do with me. That was really hard. I wanted that family – to have that family I never had.”

Her boyfriend ended up going back to prison again and for Zulma that was the last straw. She moved back in with her mom, which helped, as she was now able to go back to school again.

“She helped with my children a lot. She just took over. She said, ‘I failed you, but I’m not going to fail them (the three children),’” said Zulma.

During her pregnancies, Zulma dropped out of school multiple times. By her sophomore year, at the time having only two children, Zulma started at Pace Alternative High School and stayed there until her senior year. The school offered care for her children, which allowed Zulma to stay enrolled – until baby number three came along.

“After I had my third baby I was done,” said Zulma. “I didn’t want to bring anymore kids into the world, because I was struggling. I just wanted to finish high school.”

It was at this pivotal time that Zulma was introduced to Youth on Their Own (YOTO) – a nonprofit organization that helps homeless, unaccompanied youth graduate from high school. The organization has about 1,100 youth enrolled, many of which come from neglectful and abusive homes. Zulma knew she needed the help and support, so she enrolled.

“They really helped me a lot and pushed me to finish my high school degree – just pushing me and pushing me and pushing me,” said Zulma. “I even thought they were weird because they were interested in me and cared. I would get depressed and I didn’t want to be in school or didn’t want to go. They’d look for me at home and that would give me hope again.”

Zulma had never experienced such relentless kindness and help. She was blown away. It was because of their consistent encouragement, support and her children that she stayed motivated not only to stay in school, but also finish it. Though it took her a little bit longer to graduate, Zulma eventually received her high school diploma.

After that she attended Pima Community College and finished as a certified nursing assistant. Since finishing that, Zulma has worked in different assisted living homes. This month she will obtain a license that will allow her to run her own business.

Another added blessing for Zulma was getting married to her husband, Mario. How he has treated Zulma as well as her children is something that she will always be grateful for.

“He is so great with my kids. All three of them are like, ‘This is my dad,’” said Zulma. “He’s really good to us. I feel very blessed.”

There is now more light and hope in Zulma’s life. She is grateful not only for the support of her family but also for Youth on Their Own and their integral role in helping her finish high school. She had every reason to give up, but she didn’t. She kept moving forward and with the help of others succeeded. Her parting words of advice are these:

Believe in your dreams and what you want and go for it.

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