may be only 22, but she's waited a lifetime for a view of the world few young women like her ever get.
"It's peaceful, even on a cloudy day like this," she said from a vista point at Cal State East Bay, a campus built on the Hayward hills. "When I came here, I felt for the first time in my life that I was exactly where I should be."
Before college, she struggled in foster care. Before that, she suffered through an ugly, depraved cycle of family neglect and abuse. This is a Wish Book story with a hard beginning and no end, really, but it's a story Madrid willingly shares with former foster youths.
She has splashed her tiny room in the Diablo dormitory with pink and light-purple bedding. The cheerful decor masks the fact that she has little more than a borrowed laptop, giant teddy bear and photo montage of loved ones. She could have used more.
One of her earliest memories is sleeping in a broken-down car in Fresno with her addicted, prostitute mother and four brothers and sisters.
"We all had different dads," she said. "Sounds really bad. Yeah, I know." She described the day a younger brother ran into the street after a toy and was killed by a car. Her mother blamed Madrid's older sister, who by then had become their surrogate mother.
"That day, whatever we did have as a family was gone," Madrid said.
Also during those early years, a visiting relative sexually molested Madrid and her older sister. Madrid was only 5, but she mustered the courage to tell an aunt, who called the police. The kids where whisked into protective custody and then placed into foster homes.
Madrid doesn't blame her mother. In trying to understand and forgive, she's tracked the family abuse to a great-grandmother, who was raped at age 12 by a relative. Alcoholism, drug addition, beatings, incest and suicidal tendencies worked their way into generations to follow.
Amanda Madrid, right, sits with former foster parent Wendy Stegeman.
(Dai Sugano / Mercury News)
Social workers sent Madrid and her older sister to Milpitas to live with foster parent Wendy Stegeman, who teaches special education in East San Jose. Madrid rebelled in typical ways smoking, drinking, acting stupid and cool except in one respect. She loved learning. But she would do her homework in secret and then throw it away before class.
Stegeman wasn't fooled.
"I always knew there was more in there than the ruffian she wanted to be," Stegeman said.
Stegeman discovered that Madrid had a learning disability that her teachers had not detected and got the girl expert help. By age 14, Madrid had calmed down a bit and asked, against Stegeman's advice, to rejoin her mother. Stegeman has taken in about 300 foster kids over 30 years.
"The mother wasn't ready," Stegeman said. "I knew it wasn't going to work with her mom, but she had to try it." Stegeman was right. And a school-dropout boyfriend Madrid picked up along the way didn't work out either. Just before her 18th birthday, Madrid called Stegeman, who took her back in.
On the bright side, an aunt who had become a nurse inspired Madrid to pursue the profession. Madrid enrolled at Mission College in Santa Clara and earned an associate degree with honors. At Cal State East Bay, she has been accepted into the Renaissance Scholars program, which helps former foster-care youths cover college costs. It's helped her buy textbooks and loaned her the laptop. The program is part of California Connect by 25, or CC25, an umbrella effort designed to help foster youth get through the tough early adult years.
Liza Giron-Espinoza of CC25 said Madrid is a rare foster-care success who wants to give back. Only half of foster kids graduate from high school, and only 20 percent of those enroll in colleges, according to the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington. Five percent or less earn degrees.
Madrid is earning good grades and hopes to enter an exclusive nursing program. She wants to work with cancer patients and the elderly. Madrid has more healing and more learning to do herself. But she's finally on track, and grateful for the support of CC25.
"I don't feel alone anymore," she said in her pinkish room. "This is where I should be."
Wish Book readers can help former foster kids like Madrid. Each $50 donation to CC25 will help provide rental subsidies, clothing for job interviews, bus passes and matching funds for savings accounts. Readers can help Madrid directly, too. She could use a new computer and help buying food. The bill for student housing is $7,600 this year, and she is trying to cover that with loans and the occasional job cleaning houses.