MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Each year nearly 800 kids in Tennessee "age out" of the child welfare system without being adopted. Without support, many of those kids end up in jail, homeless or worse.
Memphis-based non-profit Youth Villages developed a program aimed at giving those youngsters the skills they need to be productive adults.
At only 19-years-old, Marquez Hardaway has already survived a lifetime of heartache and pain. For most of his life he and his siblings were moved from foster home to foster home. He attended 10 different high schools during those years.
"Kids like me, we already on the edge - I'm gonna just put it to you like that. If you already on the edge you might fall off. You might get pushed to your limit," he said.
"I know that feeling when you don't have nowhere to go, when you don't have family to lean to and people to lean to."
After his mother's death before he turned 18, his future looked bleak. Close to aging out of the foster care system, he had no help and no support. That is, until he got involved with the "Transitional Living Program" at Youth Villages.
Youth Villages CEO, Pat Lawler, says the Transitional Living Program gives kids like Hardaway a much needed hand up, providing educational assistance as well as job training and help finding housing.
"Most young people in the foster care system are pretty vulnerable," said Lawler, "we try to help them be responsible for every aspect of their life and make that transition to being a responsible, independent adult."
As for Hardaway, he's on the road to a bright future. He has his own apartment, a job, and plans to attend Southwest Tennessee Community College next semester.
"A lot of people expect kids like me to get out the system and just go run wild and end up in jail or end up dead, but a lot of people believed in me and they felt that's not meant for me and I feel that's not meant for me."
Hardaway's younger brother also lives with him at his Hickory Hill apartment and is involved in the Transitional Living Program.
Youth Villages estimates since starting the program they've helped more than 1,300 kids in Shelby County alone.