About a year ago Tayna Durrette had hit rock bottom. At age 18, she was not only a single parent and high school dropout but also homeless.

"I had to sell a lot of my belongings just to make sure that we got by. I had a job at the time at Wendy's, but I wasn't making enough to pay bills and pay a babysitter," Durrette said recently.

She fell behind in her rent, was forced out of her apartment, lived with a friend and then finally sought refuge at a Prince George's County shelter.

But today, Durrette and her 2-year-old daughter, LaQuesha, are on the road to independence, thanks in part to the Prince George's County chapter of the influential black women's group, Links Inc. The group has agreed to sponsor Durrette, providing financial and emotional support.

"I thank God every day for the Links, for being fortunate and having some people care about me. They helped me through some difficult times. Some real difficult times," said Durrette, now 19.

Durrette is the first Prince George's participant in a national program, called Adopt-a-Family, set up by the Links. Under the informal terms of the agreement, the local chapter provides Durrette with assistance in the form of holiday gifts, clothing and the promise of tuition assistance when she enters college. In return, according to Geneva Mays, a spokeswoman for the Links chapter, Durrette promises to do her best in academic and personal endeavors.

Durrette has moved out of the Capitol Heights public shelter and is living and working in a transitional shelter in Landover called the Virginia House where, she said, she expects to be for six months. She recently passed a test to get her general equivalency diploma, and has been accepted to Bowie State University.

The Links and Durrette were introduced by Edith Jamison, the executive director of the United Communities Against Poverty social service agency. Links members said they were immediately impressed with the young woman.

"When I first saw Tayna she was living in a very modest one room that was very clean. The baseboards showed evidence of rats and they {Durrette and her daughter} both were sleeping on one small mattress," said Beverly Jacques Anderson, president of the 35-member Links chapter.

"I was sort of waiting for and expecting a laundry list of {monetary} things . . . which never came from Tayna," Anderson said. Instead, Anderson said she saw a young woman's desire to better her life through education. "She clearly wants to work. {Durrette} is able to communicate her feelings. You definitely can see how she views her world, but yet not feel sorry for her."

Established in 1946 by nine Philadelphia women, the Links have more than 200 chapters in 39 states. The groups are civic and service organizations.

Besides the Adopt-A-Family Project, Links nationally are known for their Project LEAD: High Expectations! The program was established to combat drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers as well as teenage pregnancy. Project LEAD, which is financed by a three-year grant from the federal Office of Substance Abuse and Prevention, helps an estimated 1,000 youths around the country.

If Durrette is successful in establishing an independent lifestyle, her efforts would benefit the Links as well, Anderson said. "It will be an honor for us if we can help this young lady and improve her life," she explained.

If she receives her diploma, Durrette plans to enter Bowie State this fall seeking to become a paralegal.

"There are more than a few young {homeless} people in the same situation I was in. Some are younger than me with more children," Durrette said. "I just hope that they stay positive, never give up and keep working hard."