Angela Sanchez went from poverty to professional. Now the formerly homeless teenager is writing children's books designed to break down the stigma of homelessness.
From her office in a downtown LA high rise, Sanchez works to make higher education more accessible to underserved students.
"Students who are from low income backgrounds, students who are first generation, students of color, a lot of boxes I check off," Sanchez says.
Her job with the Educational Credit Management Corporation's College Success Team is a perfect fit for this 28-year-old with a Bachelor and a Master's degree from UCLA. But Sanchez is also connecting with younger students by writing and illustrating children's books. In one of them, "Scruffy and the Egg," the main characters are homeless.
"To me that struck me as a very important story to tell," Sanchez said.
It's a story she's compelled to tell because it is her story.
"'Scruffy and the Egg' is based out of the story my dad and I used to tell each other when we were homeless," Sanchez said.
During her junior and senior years of high school, Sanchez and her father lived in various motels and shelters, some of which provided nothing more than a place to sleep.
"There's no breakfast and no showers. As a teenager on her period, I was not having the best experience. So, I cleaned up in fast food restrooms and that's when it hit me, 'Oh gosh! We have no home,'" Sanchez said.
School eventually became her escape from the reality of her daily struggles.
"As a 16-, 17-year-old girl, I didn't tell anyone I was homeless," Sanchez recalled.
She now realizes that was a mistake, which is why her books encourage homeless children to confide in caring adults.
"For a kid who is homeless, having more advocates in your corner, having more people behind you, that's the best thing that could happen to you," Sanchez said.
It's a lesson she learned when she needed help with AP Calculus and reached out to School on Wheels, a nonprofit that provides free tutoring and school supplies for homeless children.
"School on Wheels delivered. They didn't just find me a tutor; they found me an astrophysicist from CalTech. And so, I literally had a rocket scientist helping me with my homework," Sanchez said.
Sanchez said the tutor opened her eyes to a future of college and a career.
Now, she's paying it forward by serving on the School on Wheels board of directors, along with donating her books to agencies that work with homeless students.
"I think it's important for children to read a book that reflects them," Charles Evans, executive director of School on Wheels, said. "A lot of our children are apprehensive, unwilling to share their story because of the stigma that's attached to being homeless."
They hope these books will help alleviate that stigma by building empathy and understanding among kids who are not homeless.
"I think this book will allow kids to step out of the comforts of their own skin and be empathetic to those that are going through different experiences," Evans said.
Sanchez hopes the adventures of "Scruffy and the Egg" will connect with homeless children and help them realize they're not alone. As her father used to tell her, "They may not have a home but they do have each other."
Sanchez added, "There is so much I owe to him now. I hope I'm making him proud."