Children First: Woman who was formerly in foster care is going from poverty to possibility

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- It's not easy going through life alone and having no family to turn to. One young woman, we met three years ago has faced the challenges that come from "aging out" of the foster care system. She's now proving you can go from poverty to possibilities.

Just a few days shy of her 21st birthday Gabriela Morales has got a lot on her plate. Like many young women her age, she goes to school, has a part-time job, and she shares a two-bedroom apartment with a friend. But by the end of the month, Gabriela will lose her foster care assistance-- and unlike most of her friends, she won't have her family to turn to.

"I have a good support system; I have a lot of friends, a lot of people at Fresno Unified who are mentors to me, but it's challenging to do things on your own."

Gabriela has been on her own for quite some time. When we first met her three years ago, she'd just turned 18 and moved out of foster care. Before that, she'd been homeless-- her mother abandoned her when she was 15. Yet, Gabriela was determined to succeed. She graduated Roosevelt High School with 4.0 and set her sights on becoming a teacher.

"It's been a hard three years, but its also been a good three years-- I've learned a lot of things."

She's learned she has a passion for teaching. Gabriela has been an after school tutor at Vang Pao Elementary for the past three years. It's a job, that she said, has been life-changing.

"Therapy for me is to go to work because the kids are always so happy," said Gabriela. "It's helped me in so many different ways-- I've become more responsible, more focused, more attentive-- it's been great being with them."

Close friend Jason Williams has seen Gabriela's ups and downs but said she's most at home in a classroom.

"When it comes to her job, working with children, I feel she puts her whole life into it," said Williams. "She really cares about the children and its something I feel that, because she lived her life a certain way, she can relate to children that live that way."

Life as a working student and without family support has had its challenges. Health issues and a lack of transportation forced her to take some time off from school. But she's back on track-- and back on the road. Just a few weeks ago she bought herself her first car.

"I got my car. That is like my biggest accomplishment because I struggled very much to get to school," said Gabriela. "So saving up to buy a car was probably my biggest accomplishment-- and being able to get it on my own, without a co-signer."

Gabriela would like to eventually move out on her own, she's looking for a second job, and in a year she plans to transfer to Fresno State or Fresno Pacific.

For other foster kids, she has some words of advice.

"You just have to keep moving forward and put yourself where you know you'll be fine. And just that it gets better-- It gets better," said Gabriela.

Gabriela's goal is to become a teacher and work with foster students in some capacity. In the meantime, she's looking for a second job, now that she no longer receives foster care assistance.
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