At five years old, Michael was removed from his home for the first time. He and his sister were taken into Child Protective Services (CPS) custody “in the middle of the night” from his recollection.
He and his sister lived in foster care for several years and were reunited with their birth mother when Michael was in elementary school. They were taken back into CPS custody when he was in junior high.
“We had an unstable life and at that point I was old enough to remember everything,” Michael said.
Once in high school, one particular story stands out vividly in Michael’s memory.
“I was picked up from high school one day and told we were going to a counseling session,” Michael said. “Two hours later, I walked out of the room and they were gone.”
His caretakers left him at the location. Michael slept on the floor of the office for a few nights before he was placed at an emergency shelter and later into another foster home.
After spending most of his childhood in foster care, in the home of a relative or in children’s homes, Michael was ready to live independently when he turned 18 years old. His CPS caseworker knew about the LIFE (Learning Independence From Experience) Project at ACH Child and Family Services and thought it would be a good fit for Michael.
LIFE Project is a supervised independent living program for young adults who age out of foster care. The program also serves homeless youth from ages 18 to 21. Carla Storey, ACH Senior Director of Residential Services, has been involved since the development of the LIFE Project and said it’s a crucial program.
“When I went to college, I had a good support network so I knew if things went sideways, I could call my family or friends,” Storey said. “A lot of these youth don’t have that. At ACH we wanted to make sure youth who age out of foster care or who are homeless are prepared to live independently. And this program helps provide a safety net during the first years of adulthood.”
Despite experiencing a rough start to his life, Michael’s LIFE Project case manager Pamela Taylor said he’s going to be successful.
“He hasn’t missed a beat since being in LIFE Project,” Taylor said. “Michael works at a gym. Within 90 days of being on staff he became the number one salesperson in Texas and earned a promotion.”
Michael is attending college and working full-time. Being in the LIFE Project allows him to focus on school and he’s learning to live on his own.
“Without the LIFE Project, I would probably still be in a foster home,” Michael said.
Youth who age out of foster care have the option to stay in extended foster care or live independently. With the decision to live on their own, many cannot afford to support themselves.
“Ever since I got into the program, I’ve been on my own,” Michael said. “It has given me the financial support I needed. I have a pretty decent job, but I wouldn’t have been able to afford my own place.”
Taylor said Michael is taking full advantage of the program and she thinks very highly of him. He made a difficult decision to leave a football scholarship from a school out of ACH’s region on the table in order to continue being involved in the LIFE Project.
“He’s accomplished a lot and done really well,” Taylor said. “He manages his money well, he’s resourceful and he’s focused on his goals.”
Michael said he wants to be a teacher and coach once he finishes school.
“I’ve always thought I could have an impact on people’s lives, those who came from a similar situation as me,” Michael said. “I’d like to think I’ll be a mentor to kids who go through what I did.”
Being a voice for children is important to Michael. Growing up in foster care, Michael said the best thing someone can do for children in foster care is provide an open and caring home to make kids feel welcome.
“The background of these kids doesn’t matter,” Michael said. “What matters is when someone intervenes to change their future and break the cycle.”
In the next ten years, Michael said he’d like to be graduated from college, established in a career and hopefully starting a family. There’s no doubt in his case manager’s mind he’ll make it there.
“He’s very self-sufficient and goal-oriented,” Taylor said. “This is what he’s had to do his whole life. I can’t see one reason why Michael wouldn’t be successful.”