San Diego, California - Kaya Mazon began changing her younger brothers’ diapers at age 5. Her mother was never around and her father was in prison, so she potty-trained and taught them to read, too.

By age 7, when her mother died, Mazon was already accustomed to taking care of her four younger brothers. Now a student worker in the County’s Department of Human Resources, Mazon and her siblings moved in and out of the foster care system. They clung to each other.

Mazon did more than just survive a tumultuous upbringing. Her talents are already being recognized at the County and beyond. Now a junior at San Diego State, she has been working in HR’s Risk Management Division since 2011. That’s when the County selected her as an intern through its Workforce Academy for Youth program, which provides work experience, training and mentorship to youth transitioning out of the foster care system.

“We fell in love with her immediately,” said Debra Howell, Mazon’s supervisor, describing the young woman as responsible, conscientious, hard-working, motivated and trustworthy. “She’s a dream employee.”

When Mazon’s six-month internship was up, Human Resources hired her as a student worker. She has put in at least 20 hours a week in this role over the past three years, working on special projects, billing and all sorts of clerical tasks.

“Kaya is a wonderful addition to our staff,” said Jan Mazone, HR’s Deputy Director. “She is extremely talented in many ways.”

On top of her work at the County, Mazon takes a full load of college courses. She mentors other former foster care children transitioning into adulthood. She plans to go to law school and is already enrolled in a pre-law program at UCLA, where she travels at least one Saturday a month.

Last month, she flew to Sacramento with a group from SDSU to attend a foster youth educational summit. There, Mazon was one of two students from SDSU to speak about how to improve services for young people like her. In between all of this, Mazon still guides and supports her four brothers, two of whom are homeless.

How does she do all of it? “I don’t sleep much,” Mazon said.

Mazon used her unstable upbringing as a motivator. Growing up in the midst of chaos, she said school was one of the few things she could control.

“It was the only way out,” she said.

Once she got to college, she let her rough past go and focused on achieving success for herself.

Mazon had started working retail jobs in high school, but her work at the County exposed her to a professional business environment for the first time.

“It’s helped me,” she said of her work at the County. “I’m usually the youngest one here, and I’ve observed others, and learned from them, watching how they conduct themselves. It has made me more mature and more professional.”

She has developed friendships and a mentor-mentee relationship with Howell. The two discuss Mazon’s future plans and career goals. Mazon has picked up lots of lessons and advice.

“I didn’t always have people to warn me about things,” Mazon said.

She passes on what she has learned to younger students who she mentors, too.

Mazon is moving closer to her dream of becoming a lawyer and eventually a judge. She wants to be in a position to improve the foster care system and help other children in the same situation she was once in. As a teen, a judge was the first person to ask where she wanted live, rather than just telling her. It made a huge difference for her.

“You learn from (the experience), especially when you can change (the system) and make things better for future foster youth,” she said.

She hopes to keep working until the end of next summer, and then start law school.