SteveO Michel wasn’t supposed to make it out of his impoverished neighborhood in Orlando, Florida.
Few young men do.
Most are swept up by the streets of Holden Heights, joining gangs and dealing drugs to survive. Many fall victim to the violence around them or addictions to drugs or alcohol.
Michel escaped, earning a football scholarship to Colorado State University that led to a college degree in social work.
The young man who sold marijuana as a kid to help support his mother and six siblings and couldn’t read or write when he started high school is now a college graduate, with a world of possibilities in front of him.
There were so many things he could now do with his life. So many opportunities.
He chose to go back home and help the impoverished people he grew up around.
Michel, 25, became an Orange County firefighter in October and specifically requested he be assigned to Station 50, serving the Holden Heights neighborhood.
The first fire call he went out on took him to the embattled Tymber Skan condominium complex, where he grew up and was living as recently as 18 months ago. More than half of the complex’s 49 buildings have been condemned, and many of those still residing there are squatters, living without running water or electricity, Michel said. Trash piles up because nobody pays to have it hauled away, and families are living in homes with missing windows and holes in the walls, floors and ceilings that let in wind and rain.
“The conditions are deplorable,” said Kathryn Kuehn, a parent and community involvement coordinator at nearby Jones High School who helped Michel get back on track when he was in school there. “It’s just destitute; like something you’d see in a Third World country. They even call it Paki-Skan. It’s like a war-torn country. It’s horrible. No one lives there by choice.”