Michael Ma, a University of Virginia law student, credits Seton Youth Shelter in Virginia Beach with propelling him onto a good path at a key time in his life.
In 2008 at age 13, Michael was living on his own after his mother was detained during a visit to China. Trouble with authorities left his mom stranded in her homeland just as Michael was gearing up for his freshman year at Kempsville High School. He was sent back alone to Virginia Beach where he and his mother had emigrated in 1999.
Michael whiled away the last days of summer in a rented room, hanging out with friends, playing basketball and reading comics. During the school year, he lived with another family while feeling depressed, anxious and increasingly disconnected from society.
After police were called during a dispute during his sophomore year, he landed at Seton Youth Shelter, which Michael credits with stabilizing his life and turning it around. “If Seton hadn’t come into my life … I’m not sure I would be here today,” he says.
Seton, which charges clients nothing, is among 30 Hampton Roads Community Foundation grant recipients helping prevent, intervene or re-engage disconnected youth and young adults. Since 2003, community foundation grants to Seton have totaled $404,336 to give youth like Michael a temporary home and helpful services. Since its founding in 1985, Seton has assisted more than 300,000 youth. Each year it works with more than 7,000 disconnected Hampton Roads youth ages 9 through 17.
For Michael, Seton Youth provided a safe place to live and life-changing counseling and therapy. After six months, he moved in with a family while Seton Youth counselors continued to check in and support him.
“We are successful in reuniting families or returning youth to a family or home setting 95 percent of the time through our shelters,” says Jennifer Sieracki, Seton’s executive director. “We also assist youth who move on … through graduating from high school, getting their GED, going to Job Corps or on to college.”
After high school, a full scholarship helped Michael attend Old Dominion University from where he graduated in 2018. He continues to volunteer at Seton as a youth mentor. His goal after law school at UVA is to practice public-interest law and give back to the community that helped him find his way in life.
Michael believes his “success was because of the support system I had and everyone believing in me.”