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Mike Peno loves his life. He entered foster care at age 11, and while in care he was in about 12 different placements, moving once or twice a year. All of Mike placements were group homes except for one, which was a wilderness therapy program for at risk foster youth.

He also participated in an independent living program, ultimately aging out of the system at age 18. After aging out of the system Michael joined the Youth Establishing Self Sufficiency (YESS) Program (a step program for young people aging out of care in the state of Rhode Island) were he had to work two jobs while in school just to make ends meet.

As a member of Rhode Island’s youth leadership board, The Voice, since its founding six years ago, Mike has been an active voice for the independent lives of foster youth, including representing his state at the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative Youth Leadership Institute (YLI), where he was selected to be a Young Fellow for the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.

Since becoming a Young Fellow, he has participated in and facilitated many meetings and committees, the most significant of which was representing the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative at the Healthy Adolescent Development and Well-Being Meeting in Washington, DC hosted by the Center for the Study of Social Policy. But perhaps more importantly, Mike’s pursuit of independence and opportunity has led him to meet “so many inspiring people and learned so much”—and now his mission is to help improve the lives of young people in foster care.

Right now, Mike is a student at Mitchell College working his way though college as a Resident Assistant at Mitchell’s college prep school (Thames Academy) in New London, Connecticut. “I work with resident’s everyday and I always learn something new and exciting.” In addition mike is an active leader on campus and has created initiatives on campus to better sever foster youth; such as summer housing accommodations.

Mike’s goal is to work toward a Master’s in Social Work while staying at the college and working in residence life—so that he can show kids his love of life, and help them find their own independence and opportunity.

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