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Man With a Plan
How I got on my grind and started thinking about the future
Michael Orr
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I’d been living at my residential treatment center (RTC) about a month, having fun and not worrying about anything, when I met Earl. He was one of the resident troublemakers, in and out of jail all the time.

When the staff workers introduced him to me, he stuck his hand out to give me a pound and said, “What’s good?” I gave him a pound and told him I was chilling out and relaxing. Then as I went walking toward the living room, he turned me around and sucker punched me out of nowhere. We were fighting for at least 10 minutes before staff broke us up. I had a busted upper lip from this dude and I didn’t even know why he wanted to fight.

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Earl was a Crip, the only one on campus. He was outnumbered one to two or three dozen, but that didn’t stop him from representing his colors. Earl kept on causing trouble with everybody until he turned 21. In New York, that’s when you “age out” and have to leave foster care and live on your own. Earl had no family, no friends and no place to go or live. We all witnessed that day when staff handed him some plastic bags and subway fare, wished him a happy birthday (talk about adding insult to injury) and sent him with his belongings to a shelter.

I didn’t feel bad for him at all because he brought it on himself. The thing that got me was how they sent him on his way. I was really upset about their actions because I pictured myself in Earl’s shoes for that moment. I knew the administration workers were grimy, but what they did to that fool was messed up.

Maybe they had this planned just for him. Or maybe it applied to anyone who had no place to go. All I knew was I wasn’t going to let it happen to me.


When I first got put in foster care at 13, I thought I wasn’t going to be there long and I wanted to go back with my family. Then I started noticing kids getting discharged to their families and ending up back in foster care a month or two later. I decided then to make the best of foster care. Years later, seeing what happened to Earl made me determined not to become another trapped statistic of the system.

I had a job on campus in the cafeteria. It only paid $25 a week, but I began to put every cent I earned away and started thinking about living on my own. I knew the sooner I started, the better it would be for me.

I was 17 years old when they kicked Earl out. I was going to be 18 in three months so I felt I would be their next target. I had to get on my grind ASAP.

My social worker tried to convince me to go to a group home every time he had a chance, but I refused. I wanted to go straight to an Independent Living (IL) house, not a group home. (IL is a program that teaches teens who are aging out of foster care how to live on their own.)

At the RTC, there were people smoking, drinking, male staff having sex with female residents, people stealing from each other and lots of fights. I had no privacy. In IL I would be one step closer to being on my own. To qualify, I’d have to have a job or be going to college or vocational school.

One of my school advisers introduced me to a program called Vesid, which helps teens and adults find work or pays for them to go to school. I didn’t know what field I’d be interested in, but since I had worked in the cafeteria my school advisor suggested I study culinary arts. I decided to give it a shot.

I had to complete the course in three months to get my certificate. But after two and a half months I quit to play my final year on the varsity basketball team. Basketball was one of the few things that kept me motivated and I loved playing.

image by Emilia Martinez

Then, during the course of my basketball season, my social worker assigned me to go to a group home, without telling me. That was a messed up surprise for me. I knew I needed to leave the RTC. I was getting older and it seemed like everyone else was getting younger. But I wanted to leave the way I planned with my workers from my agency. I’d lived at the RTC for almost five years, and it was a shock to have to leave everything all at once.

I was angry they had made a decision behind my back. I started thinking, “What was the point of having all those meetings if what I said was not going to make a difference?”

A few days after I moved, I had another meeting with staff. When we discussed my future, I put on my serious face and told them my plan to go to independent living and how good I had done on the campus. I even told them about what my social worker did and demanded they not pull that same stunt on me. They said I would be informed about any news that comes up about my future.


On my 19th birthday I played my final game on the varsity team. Now I was ready to focus on getting a job and getting out of the group home. I prepared to find work at any place that was hiring.

I filled out applications at some stores but had no luck. My friend Jayvonne told me K-Mart was hiring, so I filled out an application. One week later, I went to an orientation and was handed a folder with my schedule inside. I walked back to the group home feeling surprised and proud of myself for getting a job.

About three months later, after my next meeting, I signed up for Section 8 (a program that gives you vouchers to help pay your rent) and a savings account. I had a job and stayed out of trouble. I completed all of the tasks they asked me to do with no problem, so there was no way they could deny me a spot on the IL list.

After six months, I was finally able to move to IL housing. When I received the news, I went nuts. I felt so great about it I started packing up my things immediately. The next day a van came to take me and my stuff to my new placement.

The only problem was that the new placement was right by campus, and I was afraid I’d be around the same people all the time. Sure enough, I arrived at the house to find lots of people from the campus hanging out. My new roommate had invited them to chill there and do whatever they wanted. They were drinking, smoking, and sleeping on blankets like it was a shelter.

There was never any privacy and it was always noisy at the house, so I dealt with it by spending most of my time at the b-ball court. A month or so later, I was moved to another IL house. I got my Section 8 vouchers and started searching for an apartment. I went to a real estate broker to help me find a place to live quickly before I left care.

He found a place that he wanted me to see, but when I got there the super had the wrong set of keys. I was tired and frustrated so I decided to stick with the place without seeing it. I signed a two-year lease, put down the first month’s rent and security deposit and got the keys. When I went back to the apartment I was surprised to see how good it looked. I couldn’t wait to move in.

My 21st birthday finally arrived and it was a breath of fresh air for me. I went to the IL office to get my grant money and the last of the money I was getting from the IL program. Then I celebrated my birthday and my accomplishment with my girlfriend Erica.

Now I’ve been living at my apartment for almost a year with Erica and things are going fine. I do some part-time work and I get to see my family more. I feel a lot better about myself, and I feel that Erica and I are changing for the better. I have grown into a mature young adult and I try to show my younger peers what they need to do after they get out of foster care.

At times I catch myself thinking about the decisions I made to get me to this point. If I had an opportunity to do it differently, I wouldn’t change anything. To me the greatest thing about going from foster care to having my own place was the journey itself.

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