Because she didn’t own a computer, Sky Corona often relied on the ones at Los Angeles Valley College to do schoolwork.
Other times she would type her papers on her phone, and email them to herself to print out later at school.
It was never convenient.
“There’s a lot of computers at school, but sometimes you had to wait for one. If I was on the computer for a long time and there were people waiting, I felt bad about staying there too long,” the 23-year-old Van Nuys resident said.
For most young people, owning a computer is like owning a pair of shoes. But for those who grow up in foster care, that’s not always the case.
Research shows that less than 20 percent of foster care youth own a computer, compared to 90 percent of teens overall in the US.
Corona, works full time, attends Valley College full time, and was a foster youth. She grew up in Orange County, and has been part of the foster home system for most of her life.
“The first time was at the age of 3, and it was in and out until [she became] 18,” she said. “My mom was a single mother and she just ran into a couple of issues where she wasn't right, she was abusive at times. She wasn’t able to raise me and I went through several foster homes.
“The homes were horrible in LA County. I later went into Orange County, which was a little better," she added.
When Corona was 16, she found her father with the help of a social worker. She went to live with him for her senior year in high school.
Things didn’t work out, however. After graduating from high school, Corona moved to Orange County and started working and living with friends. Now she has her own apartment and is making it on her own.
She’s attended Los Angeles Valley College for two years, and plans to eventually transfer to California State University Northridge (CSUN) or USC to study business marketing.
But not having her own computer was always a problem. And Corona lives on a strict budget, which doesn’t leave room for many luxuries.
Now she is getting some needed help.
Corona is in the Guardian Scholar Program, which offers assistance to foster youth in colleges. Through it she learned about the iFoster and Foster Care Counts, two California nonprofits that provide laptops to teens in the foster care system.
She filled out an application and wrote an essay about her experience growing up in the foster system.
“I submitted all my stuff and didn't hear about it for months,” she said. “I figured I didn’t get it. But then they called me and told me I got it. I was so excited.”
Winnie Wechsler of Foster Care Counts, the organization that funds the laptop program. Wechsler said that having your own computer is essential to college success, and is a constant request on foster kids’ wish lists.
"You have to have a laptop computer. To succeed in college without it is virtually impossible,” Wechsler said
Each laptop costs $225 and comes equipped with a Microsoft Office suite, plus free technical service.
More than 1,800 laptops have been awarded to foster youth between the ages of 18-26 in Los Angeles alone the past four years.
“This is a basic need. The value is a ‘no-brainer,’” Wechsler said.
For more than a year, Jeremy Goldbach of the USC School of Social Work surveyed 730 foster youth who were provided with laptops by iFoster, and said that grades and class attendance improved, self-esteem and life satisfaction increased, and depression dropped precipitously.
Foster youth who received the laptops reported better quality relationships with their biological families, improved feelings of social connectedness and a more positive outlook on life, according to the survey.
“It’s not just an emotional help, but academic performance is impacted and social connections as well,” Wechsler said. “It’s more than just [having] a computer. It’s about connecting with people and creating relationships.”
Corona can attest to that. Like many young people today, Facebook and other social media are her lifelines to friends and family.
"I can go on my Facebook, and me and my mom can send emails back and forth. Now that I have a laptop, it makes it easier to stay in touch with my mom,” she said.
The computer is small enough to carry in her backpack. She can go to the school library and connect to the WiFi. She can also work on her papers there.
“Before [not having a computer] made things a lot more difficult and longer. Now it’s a lot better," Corona said.
“The laptop has been awesome.”