The young families photo project

Leandra DeArcos poses with her daughter Lexiana. [All photos by Dan Tyree.]

May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, a month during which parenting youth are  subject to constant reminders of the ways in which their parenthood is a burden to society, the economy and their communities.

Parenting at any age has its challenges, but raising children while simultaneously being bombarded with negative messaging can at times feel debilitating. The enormous pressure of saving face amid widely publicized campaigns that proclaim young parenthood is incompatible with success is a daunting task.

As a young parent, it’s common to feel isolated and unsupported.

I speak from experience, as I had my first child at the age of 17.

I’ve heard countless young mothers express grief over their inability to celebrate their pregnancies. Many of us longed to hear a simple “Congratulations.” As a seasoned mother of four, (my last child born when I was 30), I now realize that there is immeasurable value in being able to feel proud and supported, and to having others share in those feelings through your pregnancy.

In 2013, seven young mothers–including myself–joined together to form #NoTeenShame in response to the stigmatizing ad campaigns that often dominate teen pregnancy prevention efforts. Our co-founders live in cities across the nation. We are in different stages in our lives, but we all have one thing in common: Our experience as teen parents profoundly impacted us and inspired us all to become advocates for young families. As a former teen mother, I want young people to know that their journey in parenthood is worthy of validation and respect.

Last spring, I joined with local photographer Dan Tyree to capture images of young families that highlighted their complex, dynamic beauty. Tyree is the child of a teen mother, and considers himself familiar with with the stigma placed not only on young parents, but on their children.

“Over the course of this photo project, I had the opportunity to meet some of the hardest-working, loving women I’ve ever encountered,” he said. “My hope is that my photos capture their inspiring stories, and the vibrant spirit of their families.”

The Northern California families featured here are in various stages in their parenting, yet they all have something in common: A shared commitment to elevating the stories of young families in the positive light they deserve.

Leandra DeArcos centers her life around her children, Lexiana and Angel. She became a mother at the age of 18, works for Sacramento City Unified School District and is currently in the process of completing her GED. On becoming a mother at a young age, she says, “My little ones are the best thing that’s ever happened to me, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Jamaca Salazar is a mother of four, and credits her children for giving her purpose and direction. When we met with her family at the WPA Rock Garden in Land Park, the playful interactions between siblings, combined with the natural ease she shares with them collectively, made for one of the most enjoyable photo shoots I’ve taken part in.

Christina Short, had her daughter, Leslie, at the age of 18. Christina married when Leslie was 15, and over the course of the next few years had three additional children whom Leslie has played an active role in raising. On motherhood, she says, “Leslie became my best friend. We grew up together.”

Natasha Vianna, a co-founder of, had her daughter at the age of 17. In regards to parenthood, she says, “Being a mother means I have a child who teaches me as much as I teach her. In a weird way, she came into my life at such an important point. And through the years, she has continuously encouraged me to think more deeply about the kind of person I want to be.”

By the age of 25, I had three boys, was a full-time university student, and had begun a teaching career in Sacramento. Motherhood has been the most humbling and rewarding role I’ve ever embodied. My children keep me grounded, uplifted, and balanced. (Pictured here with my two middle children.) 

Bianca Savala became a mother at the age of 22, and takes pride in keeping her children active and engaged in school and family activities. She openly expresses her thankfulness for those around her who help support her in her parenting, and says her motto has always been, “It takes a village to raise them.”

Tae’lor Nicole Dee was 21 years old when she gave birth to her daughter, Camerina, who she credits for changing her life in the most positive ways. When we met up with Tae’lor last spring to capture this image, she was coming straight from a soccer game, and said she hoped by including Camerina in her soccer practices and games, they’d be able to build lasting memories together in addition to a shared love of the sport.


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Christina Martinez
Christina Martinez is an early childhood educator working in the culturally and linguistically diverse communities of South Sacramento. In addition, she is a co-founder of #NoTeenShame, a national advocacy group for young parents and their children. In her spare time, you’ll likely find her adventuring outdoors, posted up in a bookstore or indulging in a late night french fry binge.