Reaching for the stars, former foster youth praises Education and Training Voucher Program
Michael Kelly has set high goals for himself: Graduate from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, as the first neuroscience major at the university; attend medical school; serve as an influential leader in the science world; and exemplify compassion and altruism in life. And he is working on achieving those goals with the support of the Education and Training Voucher Program, which helps foster youth pay for secondary education expenses.
The 21-year-old won’t let his past get in the way of his future. In foster care from age 15 to 21, when he aged out of care, he said, “The stigma of being a foster child was—and may always be—a hurdle to overcome, but I refuse to let the past define my future, and I encourage all foster youth to have the same mindset. Life as a foster child can be tough, lonely and unfair, but I found that there are many good people out there willing to help.”
Some of them have been ETV staff. Kelly has received an Education and Training Voucher each of the last four years to pay for books, tuition, a computer and a medical school application test to pursue his education. “I am so grateful for the program,” he said. “ETV has been one of the most valuable funding sources for me as an alum foster child, first-generation college student. ETV staff have been absolutely supportive of my educational endeavors—making sure that I have the materials I need to succeed.”
The Education and Training Voucher program grants up to $5,000 per school year to students. In 2019, 169 students from 66 post-secondary schools received vouchers.
Kelly has already succeeded in many ways, receiving the university’s 2019 Man of Extraordinary Service Award, serving as a research intern of Alzheimer’s disease at the HealthPartners Neuroscience Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, and leading a trip to the Boundary Waters as part of an outdoor leadership program.
His years in foster care have helped him get where he is today. “Foster care enabled me to see the world with a unique perspective,” he said. “It taught me self-determination, empathy, and left me conscientious towards others’ hidden battles and needs.”
As someone who knows the foster care system firsthand, Kelly said he strives to help other youth in the system. “As I aim to become the best version of myself, I always keep in mind that I am capable of impacting others profoundly, and that is exactly what I aim to do.”