LOS ANGELES - Walking out in a burgundy graduation gown, Jada Salazar is joining a group of very special people.
“I’m excited, I haven’t had the opportunity to do this a lot,” said Salazar.
This isn’t your run of the mill graduation. Every person on the stage is a foster child that has completed the Individualized Transition Skills Program through the Children’s Institute Inc. And every single one of them isn’t just graduating high school, they’re going on to college.
Salazar has committed to attending USC.
“It’s amazing to be a part of that percentage that is beating the odds, it’s empowering and I’m extremely grateful for it,” said Salazar.
But there was a time not too long ago when for Salazar, college seemed unattainable:
“Two years ago, I didn’t think I was going to go to any university at all,” she said.
Without the guidance of parents, the process of applying to schools, filling out financial aid forms and just adulting in general seemed overwhelming.
“I felt like I didn’t have it together, I felt like I needed to make a budget, I needed to open an account, I felt like I needed to get my license, my permit, my ID. There were a lot of thing I knew I needed to do, but I didn’t know how to go about doing it,” said Salazar.
The odds were against her. About 60 percent of foster youth graduate from high school, and only one in five foster kids end up going to college. Many of those, don’t end up getting a diploma.
That’s where the Individualized Transition Skills Program is making a difference. Julio Cruz is a supervisor.
“Foster youth tend to go into homelessness when they become adults, drug trafficking, human trafficking,” said Cruz.
So ITSP sets these teens up with a mentor and teaches them the basics of adulthood. Specifically, how to be self-sufficient; everything from applying for a job, to filling out financial aid forms. The children are referred through Los Angeles County’s Department for Children and Family Services, and the program is free for the youth.
“Success comes in different ways, but this is huge for them,” said Cruz.
It’s huge for Salazar too. She’s graduating Dorsey High as her class president. She got into almost a dozen schools, including UC Berkeley and Howard. And has received a few scholarships to get her through.
“And I’m hoping to go to USC and start a movement on that campus, that allows me to embark on that journey to inspire others, the same way that I had to inspire myself,” said Salazar.
Some day she hopes to be a lawyer, and maybe one day, the first African-American woman on the Supreme Court.