Michael Gillespie never imagined he would become a foster father to 13-year-old Patrice. At Patrice’s birth, her mother insisted that Patrice was Michael’s biological daughter, but a DNA test proved otherwise. Undeterred, Michael lovingly took on the role of dad, and remained committed to Patrice even after he and her mother separated.

Because of her mother’s substance abuse, Patrice, then aged 7, was removed from her home and placed in foster care. Michael considered caring for Patrice full time, but he was frightened by the idea of doing so on his own. He worked long hours at National Grid and was unsure that he would be able to give her the support and skills she needed. However, as time went by and their relationship continued to grow, he realized that the right place for his daughter was in his own home.

“Throughout her time in foster care, I basically followed her, giving her as much financial and emotional support as I could. I tried helping Patrice’s mother with her addiction and focused all my energy on Patrice to make sure she was ok. I was really the only father she had known her whole life,” Michael says. “My family didn’t quite understand why I wanted to take on the obligation of caring for a child from a different background and as a single parent over 50. I tried to explain to them that I love Patrice and this is what I wanted to do. It was important to me to give her a good education and the best start in life I possibly could.”

Michael was certified as a foster parent with JCCA and became Patrice’s adoptive father a year later in April 2017. “JCCA has been wonderful throughout this process, counseling and coaching me about parenting and encouraging me to participate in Patrice’s life. There was a lot of stuff I didn’t know about bringing up a young girl and JCCA was extremely supportive in helping me do the best I can for her. It’s a terrific organization,” he continues. JCCA’s Megan Marzo adds, “It’s clear that Mr. Gillespie and Patrice have a very strong bond—she has always seen him as her father–and that he is motivated by his love for her. We are thrilled that Patrice has finally found her forever home with Mr. Gillespie.”

Parenting a teenager isn’t always easy—especially for a teen with a troubled childhood. But Michael is understanding and optimistic. “There are challenges,” he acknowledges. “I continue to get advice from JCCA and we’re doing well. There have been some good behavioral changes over time—she keeps her room cleaner and doesn’t stuff food under her pillow anymore. She wouldn’t take a bath initially, and now bathes every day.”

And the rewards? “It’s the love I get back from her,” emphasizes Michael. “She has a nice personality and it’s coming out more and more—she’s even gotten a little bossy, telling me to turn the TV down! I remember well what it’s like to be a teenager—I was a bit of a rebel myself—and I know that she’s a good kid.” Despite their complicated history, Michael and Patrice have a promising future. “I love Patrice,” Michael says. “I want to give her the absolute best shot in life I can.”