FLEMING ISLAND – Fewer than two percent of teen-aged moms graduate from college, but one Fleming Island Imagination Island VPK teacher recently beat the odds and obtained her degree in Early Childhood Development.
Lacey Hollingsworth was 15-years-old, she was a freshman at a Texas high school, and her 17-year-old boyfriend, Austin, was a senior. They were in a relationship her parents didn’t like – not because of the guy, but because of the difference in age and grades. Hollingsworth couldn’t see her boyfriend regularly during her first high school summer, so she and her boyfriend did what high school students do – they snuck out.
“I know this sounds crazy, and I know how crazy it is now, but he and I just decided that if we have a baby together, they won’t be able to keep us apart and we can stay together,” Hollingsworth said. “So that’s what we did.”
Naturally, this didn’t go over well with her parents, but when her parents eventually realized that Hollingsworth had every intention to become a teen mom, they told her something that still brings tears to her eyes:
“Lacy, no matter what you do, you have to be a success story. No matter what it takes, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, you have to keep going.”
A success story is exactly what Hollingsworth became.
She finished her first semester of freshman year in her public high school, but after that, became an online student. Months later, Hollingsworth’s first daughter, Paisley, was born. Unfortunately, Austin didn’t get to meet his daughter Paisley until she was four months old because he joined the military and was away for basic training.
Before joining the military, though, Austin did put a ring on it. Because Hollingsworth was only 16, her father had to sign legal papers to approve the marriage. Hollingsworth explained how crazy and weird this journey was, but she said looking back it, she doesn’t regret it one bit: it’s how she got to where she is today.
Now 23, Hollingsworth and Austin have been married for seven years. And not only have Paisley, who is about to turn 7 years old, but Rosalie, who is 4 years old.
Hollingsworth a rarity because of her college degree, but she said her relationship is unique, too.
“You don’t read about many couples going through a teen pregnancy the way we did,” Hollingsworth said. “You also don’t hear about couples still together after that pregnancy, seven years later. I couldn’t do any of this without him.”
While obtaining the college degree was no easy task, Hollingsworth never had any intentions to do otherwise. She said finishing high school and obtaining a college degree was an absolute must. Not only did she obtain a degree, but she obtained it with honors.
Looking back at everything that got her where she is today, she believes that in a way, she was always prepared for this route in life. Before even becoming a teen mom, Hollingsworth had a fascination with children, teen moms, infancy and anything else involving children. So, when she got pregnant, she felt one step ahead of the rest already because of her knowledge on the subject.
Then, she took that knowledge and experience after Paisley to college where she got a degree in Early Childhood Development, all while working at the Fleming Island Imagination Island where she works with children, of course.
“My life has always revolved around children in a way,” she said.
Not only did Hollingsworth endure the stress of having children at such a young age, she did it while living in Georgia, Texas and Korea to be with her husband while he was deployed in the military.
After serving five years, he left the military and now Austin and Hollingsworth live happily in Macclenny. Today, and every weekday, she drives nearly an hour to work at Imagination Island, and she loves every bit of it.
“I love those kids,” she said. “I have my kids at home who I love of course and then when I go to work, I get to love on those kids. It’s perfect.
“Getting to where I am today was tough and crazy and weird, but I don’t regret any of it. This is my life and I love it.”