Michael doesn’t talk much about his past, but there is one day he’ll never forget: April 27, 2021. That was the day everything finally fell into place. Before we get into that special day, there are a few things you should know about Michael.
He is an avid gardener. “I love the feel of the dirt on my fingers,” he likes to say. He is most fond of unusual plants like the Alligator cactus he introduced into his community garden. He covets the elusive “green rose”- an heirloom variety of rose he’d like to grow someday. Michael loves decorating his home and yard for each and every holiday. In fact, his place has been decked out for Halloween since August. A good day for Michael includes heading over to Half Price Books, listening to music at Waterloo Records, and sharing a few happy moments with his new buddy Webster- the neighbor’s dog. Michael loves American Pickers and anything Disney. What’s his favorite perk from working at Kerbey Lane Café? The free pancakes, of course!
You may be surprised to learn–given his vibrant, friendly demeanor—that Michael had a rough start in life. He grew up in the foster care system as a child with special needs. When he “aged out” of foster care, our legal system decided he did not have the capacity to care for his own health and safety. Family Eldercare served as his court-appointed guardian.
What does a guardian do exactly?
Simply put, a guardian does everything necessary to meet the needs of the person in their care and to do so in the least restrictive environment possible. While many guardianship clients like Michael are legally restricted from doing things like vote, Family Eldercare guardians make sure that they are involved in making important decisions like where they want to live. In many cases, persons under our guardianship are living with pervasive, debilitating conditions which don’t improve over time. Michael was different. Nicole, his most recent guardian, summed up her role this way.
“The best thing we can do for a client is advocate for them and work with them towards ensuring they are getting the supports they need and gaining the skills that allow them to function independently and take charge of their lives.”
Over the years, 29-year-old Michael has indeed built up a strong support system. He remained close to his childhood court-appointed advocate, Linda, and considers her family. He really likes his care team Ben, Sara, and Leigh. He lives in a wonderfully supportive community home with three roommates. Michael is within walking distance of his community garden. He attends skills-based classes and receives individualized services at his rehab center. Michael has a stable job he enjoys and is in a long-term, caring relationship with his girlfriend.
And so, with a reliable network in place, Michael took the first steps towards Rights Restoration last year. Rights Restoration is exactly what it sounds like. A person under a court-ordered Guardianship goes through a process to get their rights restored. “It can be a VERY lengthy process. The client has to do a lot of work, including working with their doctors, care teams, and attend hearings to prove competency to the court,” says Nicole. “They need to have a very strong support network and show a lot of initiative. Navigating the medical and legal systems is incredibly challenging.”
On April 27, 2021, Michael finally had his rights restored and his guardianship was dissolved. Looking back on that day, he gives an excited “yay!” and raises his hands in the air, adding:
“I was happy. Excited. I gave everybody a hug.”
Nicole couldn’t be prouder. “Michael now has complete say and authority in his own care and decisions. He can do anything and everything that any other independent young man could. His care team and I are ecstatic for him and I am so proud of how far he has come and all the hard work he has put into this. He is truly a remarkable person.”
Michael is looking forward to experiencing other days that he’ll never forget. “I would like to vote. And, my girlfriend, she wants to get married one day,” he says with a smile.
Until then, he’ll continue cultivating his own garden.