Mary Lee, came into foster care around the age of 12 and was in the system for almost five years before being adopted by her case manager one week before her 18th birthday. Since the age of 15, Mary has been actively involved in improving the foster care system.
One of Mary's greatest achievements was helping ensure foster youth adopted from state custody would not have to choose between being adopted by a forever family and pursuing higher education, like she did. Her story inspired the Fostering Adoption to Further Student Achievement Act (nicknamed the Mary Lee Act). This act gives youth who are adopted after the age of 13 the right to be considered an independent student and not include their adoptive parents' incomes in their aid request. Prior to this law, many older foster youth were deterred from being adopted for fear of losing financial support for college.
In 2015, Mary was honored by the White House as a Foster Care Champion of Change for making a difference in her community. In addition to being honored for her courage, resilience, and contributions, the award also highlights her commitment to furthering her education. Mary was also recently honored by Glamour Magazine as a Hometown Hero for her work on behalf of children in foster care. A graduate of The Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis and Austin Peay State University, Mary continues her advocacy for foster youth by serving on multiple coalitions and associations dedicated to transforming the child welfare system. Mary currently works for The Annie E. Casey Foundation as a consultant in the Child Welfare Strategy Group.