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United for Our Futures: Storytelling

Michelle Macer: Modeling Different Choices

Michelle Macer, Modeling Better Choices


The odds are stacked against teen parents and their children, particularly so in the Baltimore neighborhood of Poppleton. Since 2022, United Way of Central Maryland has been shifting those odds with a unique support center housed inside Excel Academy—a public school that gives students 14-21 a chance to catch up on credits and earn their high school diplomas. Michelle Macer runs the Poppleton Family Center, which provides transportation to and from the school; free childcare during the school day; and support with housing, food, clothing, budgeting, and mental health. Your support of our United For Our Futures campaign will allow Michelle and her colleagues to continue this work.


“It's not just ‘drop your child off, go to class,’” Macer says. “Students have to be engaged in the work we’re doing here—they learn parenting skills and coping mechanisms, set goals they can achieve, and develop a stronger relationship with their child.”


The Family Center hosts up to 18 students and their children all year long, including summer school; the staff of 12 look after the little ones while their parents are in class from 8:45 to 3:45, with a break to see their kids at lunch.


“A lot of people say ‘Education comes first,’ but here, mental health comes first,” says Macer. “Sometimes a student starts the day by laying on the couch in our lobby, because they didn’t get enough sleep with all that was going on in their home. Or they may have stayed at a friend’s house to keep their child away from an abusive uncle.”


Many of the students are couch surfers, with no stable housing: “We’ve picked up students in the morning, and everything is fine,” she says, “then we drop them off in the afternoon and all their furniture is on the front lawn.” 

And sometimes the teen’s family may offer too much support. 


“A lot of these young parents lose the opportunity to engage with their child because their own parents say, ‘You’re not doing it right—give me the baby,’” says Macer. “But here we tell them, ‘Hold your child, and allow them to feel you, hear you, smell you.’ A few weeks ago, one young man fed his son for the first time and it was monumental for him—a true bonding experience.”


That support doesn’t end at graduation: Afterwards, students can get help with housing, utilities, signing up for Early Head Start, and ongoing assessments to make sure their child is hitting developmental milestones.


“I grew up in a shooting gallery in West Baltimore, and both of my parents were substance abusers, so I was raised by my grandparents,” says Macer. “I want these students to see a brown face when they walk in the door, so they can hear about my background and understand what I went through. Because we can’t put all the blame on our parents. You have a choice. You can do things differently. You can model the behavior you want to see for your child. And we can help you do it.”


Michelle is working hard every day to ensure students have their best future. Help her with a gift to our United For Our Futures campaign.