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A young mother who worked closely with Houston authorities to put the man who raped her behind bars was recognized as Tahirih Houston’s 2014 Courageous Voice Honoree on Sept. 20 at the Houstonian Hotel during Tahirih Houston’s 2014 Gala, “Saving Lives, Celebrating Courage.”

Itza, a 19-year-old native of Nicaragua who has lived in Houston since the age of 8, was recognized for her efforts to pursue justice and rebuild her life after her stepfather sexually assaulted and impregnated her.

Itza at Houston Gala“I wanted to talk tonight so that you can all have a better idea of what Tahirih does, because for me, Tahirih changed my life,” Itza said as she addressed hundreds of guests gathered at the Houstonian.

“With the help of some amazing people, I was finally able to tell my story to CPS, the police, and then a judge,” the brave 19-year-old said.

Staff at Tahirih Houston helped Itza obtain a U visa, a special legal protection for victims of serious crimes who assist police in putting their abusers behind bars. With a U visa, the young mother will not be deported and separated from her two daughters. Equipped with a social security card, she is now poised to build a future for her small family.

Since graduating from high school earlier this year, Itza has set a new goal of attending college and pursuing her long-standing dream of becoming a civil engineer.

“I want people to know there’s always light at the end of the tunnel — run, walk, hold someone’s hand if you need to,” she told guests, who honored her with a standing ovation at the end of her moving speech.

Read more about Itza’s incredible story of courage here.

Featured Photos — Top Center: Itza on her high school graduation day with her Tahirih attorney, Jessica Howton. Photo Credit: Nasim Hoomanrad | Middle Left: Itza with her Courageous Voice Honoree Award at the Houston Gala. Photo Credit: Brandy Stoez