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United Way empowers Madison mom to become community advocate

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DANE COUNTY (WKOW) -- A single mom in Madison has become an important voice in the community, helping officers understand why teens are stealing vehicles and committing crimes.

Michelle McKoy is an inspiration to many now, but five years ago she was in a much different place.

"I was a single mom of three and I was working two to four jobs," she remembered.

With much of her attention on providing for her family, two of McKoy's kids started getting into trouble. The worst of it coming in 2015, when her 16-year-old son stole a car.

Michelle and her kids

'That was really scary because I had no idea when he ran away where he was," said McKoy.

She found him all the way in Minneapolis, where his dad and friends live.

"I realized I have to figure out a way to connect with him so I can get him on the right path because he wasn't listening," she said. "He wasn't listening to me. He wasn't listening to the teachers, the police, the courts. He was just doing what he wanted to do."

So McKoy got creative, she signed him up for sports and eventually sent him to Challenge Academy, an alternative education program at Fort McCoy, where he turned his life around.

Michelle's Son graduated from Challenge Academy with highest rank

"The journey we had to go through to get him there, it's just surreal. I didn't think it was possible," McKoy said.

After so many years focusing on her kids, she realized it was time to work on herself. McKoy came across the Boardwalk Academy, a personal and professional development series through United Way of Dane County.

"I said, I need to get [in] this class," she remembered. "This is what I need to help me to be where I want to be."

"I was just instantly inspired by her. Her energy is contagious and I knew that she was someone that we needed to invite into our cohort," said Keetra Burnette, United Way's director of stakeholder engagement.

Members of the Boardwalk Academy

McKoy sailed through the application process and made important connections through the program, eventually getting her invited to the Law Enforcement and Leaders of Color Collaboration.

"In Michelle's case, her voice as a parent of an opportunity youth 5-6-7 years ago is critical and helping us solve those problems," Burnette said.

Working hand-in-hand with law enforcement, McKoy helps them to better understand what might be going through a child's mind when they commit a crime.

As she provides that voice, McKoy is also going back to school to get a degree, feeling empowered by United Way.

"I learned that I had a voice. I learned how to use my voice. I learned how to be an advocate in the community," McKoy said about the Boardwalk Academy.

United Way of Dane County is still collecting donations for the upcoming year. Money raised goes to fund programs like the Boardwalk Academy.

If you would like to give back, visit the donate section on the United Way of Dane County's website.

Video shot/edited by Re'Nesha Donson

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Rebecca Ribley

Wake Up Wisconsin Anchor

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