Every year about 1,500 children age out of the Los Angeles County foster system. Within six months, half of them will be homeless. It's an alarming statistic an LA nonprofit is working to change.
Alexandria Maldonado is all smiles in her childhood photos, but she says she spent her high school years living in constant fear.
"The fear of someone hurting me and I felt no one would care," Maldonado said.
That's because Maldonado lived in ten different foster homes during her four years of high school. Once she turned 18, she had a new fear: how to survive on her own.
"I got nervous because I knew I didn't have a family that was going to support me. I didn't have financial support," she said.
Unfortunately, her story is not unique. When foster kids age out of the system, most have nowhere to go … and few skills to help them succeed.
Jennifer Valko, the founder of a nonprofit called Fostering a Change, is hoping to change that by providing affordable housing, financial literacy and other life skills to former foster care girls between the ages of 18 and 24.
"We have these children that are becoming adults that don't have anywhere to go in LA that are winding up on skid row, that are winding up in rehab, that are winding up in jail."
Seventy percent of the inmates in the California prison system spent part of their lives in foster care and somewhere between 50 to 70 percent of sex trafficking victims in LA come from foster youth, Valko said.
Those alarming statistics are why Valko says she founded Fostering a Change.
"They're required to go to college and we keep their rent very low so they only have to work part time and they can go to college and focus on their school," she said.
For Valko, who spent most of her career in mortgage banking, the reward is measured not in money, but in changing young lives.
"You ever give a key to a foster kid that's never had a key to a house before? And see the expression on their face when they realize they have a home?" Valko asked.
Maldonado says it is that stability and security Fostering a Change provided that allowed her to pursue higher education.
She will graduate from UC Irvine next year with a triple major. She plans on becoming a psychiatrist who also knows the law so she can both advocate for and help children in the foster care system.