ELMIRA, NY (WETM) – In celebration of Women’s History Month, 18 News is highlighting four local women who inspire, lead and forge the way for other women.

This week we meet Donna Vega. She is a Philly native, mother of three, and the first in her family to graduate high school and college.

“I wanted to tell my children that regardless of how your past was going…The cycle could change, and there could be a break in it,” she explained.

At school, Donna worked hard. She stayed on the dean’s list throughout, not allowing herself to drop below a 3.50 GPA. Her academic excellence also won her two scholarships.

While excelling in school, she was working multiple jobs and also​ supporting her family through difficult times. At the time, her husband went through kidney failure, while her youngest daughter had just been diagnosed with autism.

Yet, she was committed to both family and her studies, alike.

“I was going through a lot, but I maintained it all because…I wanted to be the role model… I can’t tell my kids ‘You need to finish school,’ but I didn’t do it or didn’t even try,” said Donna.

Donna knows hardship. At the age of 17, she became pregnant with her first child. At the age of 19, she was a homeowner, raising two children, as a single mother in Kensington, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

She described it as, “A part of Philadelphia that’s completely impoverished, it’s drug-ridden and that’s where we lived.”

As a teenager, she also became a victim of domestic violence. The father of her children was physically and verbally abusive towards her. Trying to get out of this relationship, in a way that was safe for her children, took her years.

“It was very difficult to try to gauge how to get out of that relationship when you’re thinking in survival mode all the time,” she said.

Thoughts like these were constantly running through her mind, “Where am I going to take these children, if something happens to me, who do my kids go to, and if the person comes to me will they harm my children, am I going to be able to stop them… And I made plan, after plan, after plan, and he figured a lot of them out.”

In the end, it was her kids that gave her the strength to leave.

“They have been my entire drive…To show them that anything is possible,” said Donna.

Donna continues to aim high, she is now pursuing her second master’s degree, studying counseling, so she can help the community even more and aid those without a voice.

“I want to continue to give back…It’s very important to me,” said Donna.

Donna supports her kids by advocating for the various communities they are a part of.

One of her daughters is transgender and her other son and daughter are black, like their father.

She has traveled to multiple pride parades to go sponsor and support her daughter. She has gone to multiple Black Lives Matter protests, advocating for her children. One of which, she held on her own sidewalk with her daughter and granddaughter, talking to their community about the movement.

Donna donates within the community, as well as engaging in various volunteer work around Elmira, primarily with the Vietnam Veterans War Museum. She has volunteered there since the Museum opened, creating pamphlets and business cards for them, writing letters, and keeping them active on Facebook.

From time to time, she fosters dogs. Though, she has a soft spot and can’t always give them away at the end of the foster period. She currently owns four dogs.

Donna also continues to donate to Kensington and other impoverished areas in Philly through the Blessing Bags program, which gives out donations to people in need. She tries to go to Philadelphia as much as she can to help out with the program. She holds a special place in her heart for those in need, because at one point in her life, she was one of those people.

“Those individuals deserve to be treated like they are people. You’re not better than them. You could be them. I was them,” she said.