DENVER (CBS4) – For many young people in foster care the promise of a family adopting them is never fulfilled.

Marissa aged out of Colorado’s foster care system and was all on her own. She was never adopted. Now she is overcoming the odds stacked against her by holding a steady job and living on her own in Colorado Springs.

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“Raise the Future” reports that one in five youth who age out experience homelessness by or before they are 21 years old. Marissa said that without a family finding shelter and a job or an education takes a special determination and willingness to survive.

Marissa was removed from her biological home because she was abused. This trauma is enough to set one person back forever, but she admitted that it’s the emotional wounds that are taking longest to heal.

“I know what it’s like to feel that pain, to feel unwanted, to feel homeless and I don’t want other people to feel it” she told CBS4’s Britt Moreno.

When Marissa was 13 she went into foster care. She remembers being scared and confused.

“It was pretty tough I would have a backpack of normal things that I kept with me just in case I didn’t have a home to come back to,” she explained.

(credit Marissa)

The backpack was the only staple in Marissa’s life. To this day she still brings it with her wherever she goes just in case her home is not there when she returns.

Through the darkness of her childhood she has found light as a young adult with the help of one organization she calls her guardian angel, CASA.

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She now works at a veterinary clinic and loves it.

“They don’t have much of a voice, so I feel like I can be a voice for them,” Marissa said of the animals she works with.

She is studying to be a vet tech. She’s also learning how to have trusting relationships. No easy feat after living with a foster family who was close to adopting, but never did.

“It sounds really stupid, like ‘Hey, I had to research how to connect to people and what it means,’” Marissa explained.

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Marissa feels adoption would have changed her life. She thinks back on that foster family “their morals and values would have helped shape me. And helped me grow into a better person. And I would have liked that. I think it would have changed for the better”.

She admits she’s not sure when she will leave her home without her backpack, but she assumes it will happen when she finally finds that sense of community she has wanted her whole life.

“Raise the Future” tells us over 200 youth emancipate from Colorado’s foster care system every year. 71% of young women who emancipate will become pregnant within the first two years of aging out. 60% of child trafficking victims are current or former foster youth.

CASA facts:

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  • According to the National Foster Youth Institute’s 2017 data
    • More than 23,000 children will age out of the US foster care system every year.
    • There is less than a 3% chance for children who have aged out of foster care to earn a college degree at any point in their life.
    • 7 out of 10 girls who age out of the foster care system will become pregnant before the age of 21.
    • After reaching the age of 18, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless.
  • Advocates for Children CASA is one of 18 CASA agencies in Colorado and one of nearly 1,000 nationwide.
  • At Advocates for Children CASA, we have a program called the Legacy Project that supports teens (ages 13 and older) to become self-sufficient young adults. Many of these teens have been or are in foster care and are on the path towards emancipation.
    • The Legacy Project trains and supports volunteer Mentors who provide young adults with one-on-one mentoring, the acquisition of life skills, goal setting support and resource navigation within the community.

For more information on how to help young adults like Marissa or to get involved with Advocates for Children CASA, please visit www.adv4children.org