When it comes to college, Elexus Hunter beat the odds, and now she’s paying her good luck forward.
Hunter, 24, grew up in a single-parent household in San Francisco until she was taken into foster care when she was 16, which she said was a “blessing.”
“It was hard maneuvering through foster care because I didn’t know who to talk to. I was battling with my own emotions: anger, fear and pain — I really felt alone. … But at least I was safe,” Hunter said.
Hunter finished high school while in foster care, then schlepped across the country to Clark Atlanta University in Georgia, where she earned a full ride through private scholarships and federal grants.
Though Hunter was no longer in foster care, she still struggled.
“Finding housing was challenging during the holidays. … I hated the feeling of being homeless,” she said, echoing a common issue that former foster youth face.
“I’m very thankful that some people knew my situation and offered to let me stay at their home. Without their help, I would have been forced to get a room at a motel, or maybe sleep on one of the 24-hour buses,” she said.
Young adults like Hunter who spent time in foster care tend to have a hard time with college. Just 20 percent of foster youth who graduate high school enroll in college, and less than 3 percent end up graduating from a four-year institution, according to estimates by nonprofit organizations that track the issue.
Thankfully for Hunter, her hard work paid off. She graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree — becoming the first in her immediate family to do so — and eventually relocated to California, hoping to make a difference in the life of other foster care youth.
Then, using nearly all her savings, Hunter founded Tragic is Magic, a Los Angeles nonprofit that has since given more than $5,000 in scholarships to college students impacted by the foster care system.
Luz Edita Hernandez, 26, is a Tragic is Magic recipient. Hernandez immigrated to the United States with her father when she was 14. But after two years, her father had to return to Honduras, leaving her in the California foster care system alone and without any family members in the country.
After she turned 18, Hernandez became homeless for a few years, living with friends when she could and on the streets when she couldn’t.
“I was sleeping in a friend’s garage for a few months,” Hernandez said. “Then I lived in a house with five other students, all of which were guys. I didn’t feel safe, so I moved out and was on the street.”
Hernandez graduated from San Francisco State University in May 2018, crediting Tragic is Magic.
“Without their support, I wouldn’t be here today, … a college student who graduated with honors,” she said.
Nicholas Olivares, 20, is another recent scholarship recipient. A current senior at the University of California Berkeley, he learned about Tragic is Magic through another nonprofit.
Before he was awarded the scholarship, Olivares didn’t have a computer. Since he lives off campus, he had to walk 30 minutes each time he needed to use the nearest public computer or to print up a homework assignment.
With the scholarship, Olivares bought a computer and a printer, and used the remaining funds for printer ink.
“I’m deeply grateful,” Olivares stressed in a phone call with YR Media.
Going forward, Hunter hopes to assemble a board of directors and raise more money for scholarships. She’s going at it mostly alone, but does have a few volunteers.
“It brings me joy to know that I can help youth in similar situations reach their career goals and make something of themselves. I want to touch as many youth as possible,” Hunter said.