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How a Former Foster Youth Is Working To Better the Foster System—and How Archways to Opportunity is Helping Along the Way

CAEL and InsideTrack partner with McDonald's Corporation to provide McDonald's employees career and education advising as part of McDonald's Archways to Opportunity. McDonald's employees work with advisors who support their exploration, planning and pursuit of career and educational pathways, and often utilize tuition assistance provided through Archways to Opportunities. Below is the story of one employee who is using Archways to Opportunity to pursue his dream of becoming an attorney and advocate for youth in the foster care system.

One day, Mitchell Cotter wants to have a career where he can advocate for youth in the foster care system. As a former foster youth himself, he knows first-hand the challenges and struggles that young people face. To achieve that goal, he’s a pre-law student majoring in political science at University of Wisconsin-Platteville. And to help pay for that education, he’s working as a crew trainer at the Platteville McDonald’s (at 1775 Progressive Parkway, owned and operated by Casey Newman), where Archways to Opportunity covers part of his tuition.

“The scholarships and the financial aid have been a really big help. And being able to have a job while being a student is nice, so I have some cash,” says Cotter, who is 20. “McDonald’s has also been very flexible in working with my school schedule—even when I had a pop-up exam, they worked around it.”

That flexibility was critical last summer, when Cotter got the opportunity to serve as an intern at the Wisconsin State Legislature. “I would go to the capitol and wear my business suit one day, and when I would get back home I would put on my McDonald’s uniform and go work at McDonald’s. It was definitely a jump,” he says.

Interning with Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, he shook hands with senators and representatives and even met the governor. He also got to help write his first bill. Emerson encouraged Cotter to consider issues he’s faced and things he wanted to change, and his mind went to the foster care system. As a teenager, he bounced back and forth between his family’s home and a foster home, and experienced first-hand the struggles that foster youth endure. In the bill he helped write, he sought to give foster youth a more prominent voice in the homes where they’re placed. “A lot of the focus of the foster care system, especially in Wisconsin, is trying to get kids back to their parents. That’s important, I understand, but sometimes that’s not the best situation to be a part of,” he says. The bill was shot down in committee, but the overall experience affirmed to Cotter that he was on the right path to make an impact.

As he looks ahead to graduation in 2023, Cotter wants to apply next to a dual-degree program at University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison where he can pursue a J.D. as well as a Ph.D. in political science. That’ll give him the option of choosing whether he wants to focus on law or public policy. While he’s not sure exactly how his career will unfold, he knows where he’d like to focus.

“I would like to advocate for foster youth, specifically making sure that children and youth have the proper resources so when they age out of foster care they are able to live independently,” he says.

When it comes to paying for grad school, Cotter feels reassured knowing there’s a McDonald’s in Madison. He hopes to continue to tap into the benefits of Archways as he looks ahead to the future.

“McDonald’s isn’t going to be my career. It’s not going to be my life,” says Cotter. “So I’m glad McDonald’s realizes that and helps you advance your next career.”

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