Madyson’s Story

Project Independence Makes an Impact

January 2019…Madyson and her 3 siblings were a “typical” family when she was growing up – in a stable home with her Mom and Dad – living in Point Pleasant. She was extremely close to her younger brother Michael who was born when she was 7. Tragedy struck in 2008, when Madyson was 12. Her father passed away, and her mother had a very difficult time coping with her grief and turned to drugs. Not long after, the state Department of Child Protection and Permanency stepped in and removed the 3 siblings still living in the home and placed them in foster care for their safety. Madyson was placed with her brother and stayed in foster care until she turned 18. At that time, Michael returned to live with his mother and Madyson joined him hoping to protect him. But not long after moving back, Madyson confronted her mother for her behavior and was kicked out of the house. Madyson returned to her foster care home, but kept a close eye on her brother from afar. 

Project Independence is a program of Preferred Behavioral Health Group that provides life skills for children in out-of-home placements, such as foster care. Madyson joined the program when she was 17 and has been working with Lori O’Brien, the program director, for the last 5 years. 

Lori and Madyson worked together on learning practical life skills, that are often not learned in the home. The program teaches teenagers everything from personal hygiene skills to basic cooking and beyond. In Madyson’s case, Lori focused on the future, working on college applications and process, financial literacy, paying bills, filing taxes, and independent living skills. 

“I’ve learned so much at Project Independence,” said Madyson, “and I loved working with Lori – my Mom coped with drugs and alcohol and I am determined to not follow her example.…”

With a strong work ethic and an amazing amount of perseverance and courage, and with the help and support of Project Independence, Madyson is now a sophomore at Ocean County College. She plans to transfer to Stockton State College and receive her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work.  She receives low income housing and lives independently in an apartment in Toms River, where she works regularly and attends school full-time. She continues to mentor her brother, now a high school sophomore, who stays with her most weekends.

She tried to gain custody of Michael recently, who is 15 and still living with their mother, but she was turned down by the judge. Based on that experience and the experiences she faced growing up, Madyson plans to become a Law Guardian, an advocate who represents child’s interests in custody matters.

“Madyson is brave, determined, smart and focused, and I am so confident that she will continue to pursue her dreams in the years to come,” according to Lori O’Brien. “She’s come a long way and I look forward to watching her future successes.” 

For more information on PBHG’s Project Independence, contact Lori O’Brien at