updated 08/03/2006 AT 6:35 PM ET
•originally published 08/05/2006 AT 6:00 AM ET
Kathy Ireland has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated s swimsuit issue three times, runs her own $1 billion clothing-and-furniture line and is the happily married mother of three – yet she faced hurdles along the way.
“When I started my business, I was told I wasn t smart enough,” Ireland, 41, said, speaking at California’s Long Beach City College on July 29. “But you have to believe in yourself.”
Those are words to live by, especially for the 50 new mothers – unmarried and mostly in their teens – who were there as part of the L.A.-based Kathy Ireland Mentor Program for Single Teen Mothers.
Since starting the program in 1990, Ireland has matched some 500 girls with female mentors, who meet with the girls at least four times a year and phone regularly to offer advice on everything from going back to school to ending an abusive relationship. (Each pair signs a contract to keep in touch for a year.)
Ireland – who this year awarded each girl a $500 scholarship for school costs – says her Christian faith fuels her desire to help: “I believe we are all God’s children.”
One young woman Ireland has guided is Christina Perez, 23, who met Ireland four years ago when Perez was a high school dropout and unmarried mom. Today Perez is a married mother of three, studying for her GED and working part-time.
“We all have value,” she says. “Kathy taught me that.”