When Nikki first arrived at the shelter, it was clear that she didn’t want to be bothered.
She was a 15-year-old who barely reached 5 feet and weighed no more than 80 pounds—but everyone was intimidated by her.
Nikki cursed, yelled, skipped school, and was known for engaging in dangerous fights. She had little tolerance for disrespect and was quick to protect herself when she was upset or offended by someone.
The behavior scared a lot of people away— but they had no idea about Nikki’s private struggles.
Nikki was a victim of physical and sexual abuse. She was angry, hurt, and wounded by the horrific traumatic events that had happened over the past few years. The rage and helplessness she felt manifested itself into aggressive, self-destructive behavior, and she didn’t have productive tools or guidance to deal with her pain.
Delia Edwards and Vantrisa Boatwright are the youth mentors at the group home who welcomed Nikki to the center. At first, the ladies bumped heads with Nikki, as she stubbornly dug her heels in and pushed boundaries.
After some time, the youth mentors noticed that Nikki was an incredibly talented artist. She could draw personal portraits, houses, and other complex things. Everyone was impressed by her gift. So, Ms. Edwards and Ms. Boatwright worked with the staff to purchase paint supplies and connect her to art classes that would help nurture her talent.
Then something amazing happened—they started to see a change in Nikki.
After seeing how dedicated the staff were to her progress, Nikki began attending school regularly, changing her friend circle, and making straight A’s! Her transformation inspired other girls in the group home, and soon they were all advancing academically, personally, emotionally, and behaviorally.
“It’s a remarkable story,” says Gary Brannen, Lutheran Services Florida Program Director in Loxahatchee, Florida. “Nikki is intelligent and has this new belief in herself. She trusts the staff to support her after seeing that they really are invested in her success.”
Currently, Nikki has become engrossed in politics and can be found talking about policies, economic disparities, and various federal laws. She also spends time incorporating unique designs into her hobby of styling hair and doing manicures.
“She’s always talking about the future,” says Gary.
And with the change Nikki’s made, that future is bound to be bright.