Local non-profit opens doors for foster care youth

SHELBY TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) - Like any 16-year-old, Hunter Michalak has chores, even on a Saturday.

It's part of the ground rules at his new home, The Key, in Shelby Township. The home is operated by Opening

Gates, a Southfield-based non-profit agency that serves disadvantaged youth in the foster care system and juvenile justice system.

Hunter has been living there since March with seven other boys.

"I had family problems," Hunter explained. He came to The Key from a shelter in Detroit.

Here, Hunter works with mentors and therapists, and says he's in a better place than he was four months ago.

"I'm more communicative," Hunter said.

"I've become more intelligent through my conversations with the supervisor and case managers."

Shawon Respress founded Opening Gates in 2011.

"I've endured the same pains and a lot of the things that the young kids face today," said Respress, who spoke at the organization's first annual fundraiser Saturday. Respress was in the foster care system himself.

Opening Gates has served 32 teenage boys so far, providing them with behavioral therapy, mentorship and job training.

Respress now hopes to raise enough money to offer more programs, including parenting classes and foster care case management.

"We want to help children because there's a lot of abuse and neglect in the community."

Javon Burkes, a board member for Opening Gates, said the agency's continued goal is to "help [youth] overcome, control their dreams, overcome their obstacles."

Hunter says he's overcome his obstacles, and says The Key is opening gates to his future.

Boys at The Key generally stay anywhere from 6 to 12 months. Opening Gates hopes to open a second facility in Southfield later this year.

Anyone who wants to donate to Opening Gates can do so at openinggatesMI.org/donate.

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