When Amy Montoya found out she would become a mom at sixteen, she remembers feeling terrified.
"I was so scared," the now 31-year-old mom told TODAY Parents, adding that her parents believed sex before marriage to be taboo. "Having to tell my mom specifically 'not only did I have sex, but I’m having a child out of wedlock' was the scariest moment of my life."
After her daughter, Liz, was born in 2006, Montoya rejected any stigmas about teenage mothers.
"I was going to have her at 16 regardless," Montoya said. "I wanted to give her the life I always dreamt of — both for her and things I didn't have growing up."
Through the years, Montoya said her motivation each day has been to give her daughter the best life possible.
"She's the reason that I pushed through a lot of obstacles," she shared. "There will always be obstacles, but you have to think long term. Don’t let the current situation deter you from controlling the narrative for the future."
With this belief, Montoya wanted to take her experience and help others. She launched "Empowered Mums," a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping lift up young moms and single moms. During the pandemic, she turned her focus to helping moms put food on the table, supplying groceries to more than 100 families.
"My ultimate goal is definitely putting moms in a position where they're advanced in their careers," Montoya said, adding she hopes to eventually provide grants or scholarships for moms to attend school. "When a mom is in a position that they can provide for their family and not have to worry about other things... I want to be able to provide that for moms."
Although long term success for moms is the goal, Montoya recognizes that many hardships occur in that journey.
"I love to keep around emergency relief (funds)," she shared. "I’m helping moms out with groceries, we’ve helped out with bills, school supplies. I always want to have an emergency funds for moms that need help in the meantime. It's a judgement free zone — tell me what you need and I'm going to make it happen."
Montoya was featured with other inspiring moms making a difference on the TODAY show plaza, and TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager surprised her with a $15,000 check from Stacy's Pita Chips for her organization, Empowered Mums.
"Oh my gosh!" Montoya exclaimed, noting that she has a $125 grocery budget for each family, so the donation will go a long way. "It will help tremendously. I am so happy!"
The single mom hopes that her journey shows that teenage pregnancy doesn't have to mean moms cannot excel in life.
"I'm not somebody who just woke up and decided to start this nonprofit — this is my life," Montoya said. "As somebody who has been through the journey in many different ways, this platform is coming from me and showing that this is reality and things are achievable."
Montoya told TODAY that if she could give her teenage self one piece of advice, it would be to know her journey is not in vain.
"It will come back and I will have conversations with women and children," she said. "My journey is going to help people out."