Just like any 16-year old, Michael enjoys listening to music, seeing his friends, and experimenting with cooking. But Michael has a different history than most of his peers. Three years ago, he and his younger brother were picked up from the shelter where they were living with their mom and taken on a “car ride to a mysterious place that felt like forever.” Soon, Michael realized that he was in foster care and that many challenges were just beginning.  He was angry and upset, but mostly scared.

Today, Michael is a high school junior, has an “A” average, and is preparing for college. With support from his foster mother and the case work staff at Leake & Watts, he has journeyed from fear to success. Michael’s social worker, Mr. Keane, notes that Michael has handled the changes and challenges he has undergone with strength and grace. To do so, Michael has sought out therapy in order to give himself an outlet to discuss his feelings and learn from them.  Stressing that foster care has an undeserved negative stereotype, Michael says, “Foster Care is not bad, it is how you look at it. It is scary at first, but then you gain a different outlook over time and take the positive.” Now, with a different perspective, Michael strives to excel at school and is setting his eyes on earning an Advanced Regents Diploma.  Fueled by his endless determination and optimism, Michael’s dream is to attend college and become a veterinarian.

Michael’s efforts don’t just stop with self-improvement.  To help others who are in foster care, Michael has become an advocate for other teens at Leake & Watts. Having been in the same shoes, he understands the issues teens face in foster care and is able to voice them clearly.  He regularly attends Family Team Conferences to help teens voice their own concerns and lend support and encouragement.

“This is not the end. There is a lot of good stuff to come in this experience and after.”

As testament to his achievements, Michael was honored as a winner of the Youth in Foster Care essay contest at the 12th Annual Youth Communication Awards for writing about his experience as a foster child. Michael’s essay bravely discusses missing his mom, his feelings of inadequacy, and the challenges of being influenced by the wrong crowd. 

The members of Michael’s Leake & Watts family are delighted with, but hardly surprised by, his most recent accomplishment. Mr. Keane says he has always “hoped that Michael’s skills, hard work, and motivation could be rewarded by others so that he truly understands how impressive a young man he is.” For his part, Michael is thankful for his group of cheerleaders and mentors, “It’s not just been one person, it is a whole team.”

Unlike four years ago, Michael knows that he is just at the beginning of his journey.  When asked what he would say if he could reach out to himself when he was first placed in foster care, Michael boldly says, “This is not the end. There is a lot of good stuff to come in this experience and after.”