This is one of a series of stories about the nonprofit agencies that receive money from The Gazette/El Pomar Foundation Empty Stocking campaign that runs through the holidays.
When Samantha Gonzalez got pregnant with her first child, she didn't have financial or emotional support.
"I was 17, still in high school," said Gonzalez, now 24. "I had no options, no resources, nowhere to go."
Memorial Hospital introduced Gonzalez to Peak Vista Community Health Centers, a local agency offering medical, specialty and immediate care, among other services, to low-income, uninsured individuals.
Peak Vista examined Gonzalez and her baby, providing resources for the first-time mother and emotional support with counseling and groups.
Sometimes Gonzalez, then a military dependent working minimum-wage, couldn't afford the co-pay. Donations to Peak Vista allowed her and her son to receive care.
"What really connected me to Peak Vista was my second son, who happened to be premature," Gonzalez said.
A Peak Vista pediatrician saw her premature son - now 3 and "in very good" condition - and provided periodic checkups for a year, offering referrals to outside specialists, too.
"It was definitely helpful," said Gonzalez.
Her children remain as Peak Vista patients, and Gonzalez was hired on as a staff member in August, handling patient referrals for services such as sending oxygen to homes or specialties like orthopedics.
She has since recommended the agency to friends and others in similar situations to her 17-year-old self, working in the clinic and providing Spanish-speaking services.
One patient stood out. Gonzalez did the woman's initial referral paperwork, and they developed a bond.
"(She) called me with every little question," said Gonzalez.
The woman, who spoke only Spanish, was at her home one day having choking symptoms. Gonzalez met emergency responders there, interpreting for the medical team.
Gonzalez encourages others to help those in need with medical and emotional care. "(Have a) mentality to really pay it forward ... You never know what tomorrow will do for you."