Twenty year-old Michael Place aspires to revolutionize the foster care system, and he is well on his way. He spent nine years in care, starting at age nine, and stayed in eight different places before moving back with his mom at age eighteen. He is currently pursuing a degree in Social Work at SUNY- Buffalo State College and successfully living on his own.
“The system has matured me, substantially. As a young kid, I had to act like my own guardian. I have brought those skills into my adulthood and it has done me quite well,” says Michael. “The system has given me a ton of amazing opportunities, and most importantly, it has supplied me with a passion.”
Michael, who considers himself one of the lucky ones, wants to use his life story to reach out and encourage other foster youth who don’t yet know that hard work and determination can take you anywhere. For over four years Michael had been a committee member of Westchester Family and Children Services leadership council, whose aim is to educate teachers, school staff, students, and policy makers about how homophobia and heterosexism can negatively impact the learning environment. He served as a peer educator at the LGBTQ drop in center.
As a peer educator, he ran workshops on LGBTQ issues, served as a leader and mentor to the gay community, and spoke on a variety of panels including the “Annual Pride Works Conference” that is attended by hundreds of high school students and their parents. In 2008, he spoke on a panel that was catered to homophobia in Hip Hop. Independent Living has been a challenging transition for Michael, but he is handling it beautifully.
He maintains a full-time summer job, keeps up with his volunteer commitments, and excels at school, which he says is his first priority. “Living on your own can be hugely overwhelming. However, I am glad to say my bills are always paid, and I always eat well. I love living on my own and cooking my own meals,” says Michael. “Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m no longer a teenager wishing I was an adult. This is actually the real deal.”
According to Michael’s mentor, a legal aid attorney he met an event sponsored by the American Bar Association where LGBTQ youth in NY foster care spoke about their experiences to a group of attorneys and judges, “Michael is an ambitious and goal-oriented individual with an unwavering commitment to improving the country's foster care system that is an inspiration to me.”