Mary Lee

child welfare expert and advocate, foster care alumni, adoptee

Mary Lee, Esq., serves as assistant director of strategic partnerships at Youth Villages, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families live successfully. Mary’s emphasis is on helping expanding YV programs including the YVLifeSet program that provides vulnerable young adults, most of whom are aging out of foster care, with the skills necessary to achieve their fullest potential. At Youth Villages, Lee helped to establish and continues to support the YV Scholars program, which offers young adults in YVLifeSet additional support to meet their educational goals. Lee entered the Tennessee foster care system around the age of 12 and was adopted a week before her 18th birthday. One of her greatest achievements was helping ensure foster youth adopted from state custody would not have to choose between being adopted by a family and pursuing higher education, as she did. Her story inspired the Fostering Adoption to Further Student Achievement Act (nicknamed the Mary Lee Act). Lee continues her advocacy for foster youth by serving on multiple coalitions and associations dedicated to transforming the child welfare system. Lee is a graduate of Austin Peay State University and The Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis. In 2015, she was honored by The White House as a Foster Care Champion of Change for her work on behalf of youth who have experienced foster care and was also named one of Glamour Magazine’s 50 Hometown Heroes. Lee was recently award a the North American Council on Adoptable Children 2016 Activist of Year Award.