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Aging Out
My Story
David Griffin
Risa Bejarano
Daniella Anderson
Keely Lopez
Thomas Hudson

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Risa Bejarano Los Angeles, CA

Eighteen-year-old Risa Bejarano entered the foster care system at the age of nine after being neglected by her mother and being abused by her stepfather. At 18, she was with her 10th foster mother, Dolores Ruiz, where she had been for two years. Dolores was also raising four other girls in foster care. Risa was always a very special foster child for her, Dolores explained. "It's very hard for them. They've been jumping from foster home to foster home and they have to decide, 'Can I trust this lady?' With Risa, it's hard to explain. We just bonded."
I'm the only one from my whole family who's going to graduate from high school and not like prison or something.
RISA: I can't say my mom taught me how to do anything because I learned everything by myself. When my mom came to the United States, she had to go out to the streets and, I don't know, sell her body I guess. Or do drugs obviously, and go to bars and get drunk. At the same time, she was still having kids. She left us alone and didn't feed us and just didn't care. I guess she couldn't.

I am not sure how many siblings I have. I think there are 12. My older brothers were all in gangs because that was the only family that they knew. I try to do the most I can so I won't be like them.

When preparing for her high school prom, Risa explained how being a foster child made the experience unique.

RISA: Basically I had to pay for everything and all my other friends didn't. I had to buy my dress. I had to pay for my own hair, my own nails, for everything. I'm sure Dolores is proud and everything, but it's not like having your actual mom and dad see how you look. I just spoke to my real mom over the phone yesterday. She was like clueless. I said "Yeah I'm going to the prom tomorrow." I don't even know if she knows what it is.

prom video

Risa received six scholarships worth over $8,000, enabling her to go to the University of California at Santa Barbara. Risa had two jobs to save for school, tutoring middle school students and working the late night shift at Carl's Jr., a fast food restaurant.

RISA: My jobs are for me to raise money so I can live on my own. Working Carl's Jr. graveyard shifts really affected me a lot. Having to go to school the next day, my body couldn't handle it. I learned about crystal meth, which is an upper. The drug was there. Since I worked from maybe 10 at night to eight in the morning, I just feel like I was forced to do it in a way.

Risa's two closest sisters Alejandra and Suzie surprised Risa by showing up at her graduation. They both ran away from their foster homes by the age of 15.

RISA: It was amazing for me to see my sisters at graduation. Every single graduation no one was there. This graduation just made me realize that I still have a family. I don't know. It just meant a lot.
Risa at graduation

They saw that little girl who used to always do her homework and cooked and took care of them, graduate from high school.

Risa graduation video

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