To say that Nicole had a rough start in life is an understatement. As an infant, Nicole’s diapers would go unchanged so long that she remembers the pain of having urine burns all over her tiny body and once watching her older brother and sister try to eat cat litter while their mom was sinking into meth addiction.
The three kids were put into foster care, and Nicole was trundled from one placement to another, year after year, until finally getting adopted at age 10. But by then, so much damage was done. She suffered from a severe inability to form or maintain close relationships (the official diagnosis is “reactive attachment disorder”).
“Every time I got close to someone, I got hurt,” she said.
By the time Nicole was 13 her new home had become a war zone. She and her adoptive mom reached a breaking point where they couldn’t live in the same house without violent eruptions.
Nicole’s mom heard about IYR through a co-worker. Nicole arrived at Hays Shelter Home just before turning 14 and ended up spending the next four years of her life in and out of IYR’s care.
A month at Hays led to two years at the Ranch Campus. She didn’t want to do her chores, her homework, or her therapy at first but when she realized we were serious about the rules, she buckled down and got it done.
Nicole’s struggle was long and difficult and she was a challenging kid to work with at times. But no matter what, we did not give up on her.
During Nicole’s second summer at the Ranch, she met one of the great teachers of her life: a 4-H dairy calf. Something about the calf’s gentle, playful nature broke through the walls Nicole had built around herself for so many years.
“This one day, I was in the pasture with my calf. We were laying in the grass and I was resting against her belly with my eyes closed. And then I felt something weird on my head and I turned around and that calf had my whole ponytail in her mouth!”
For a second Nicole got mad, but then it hit her: the calf was showing affection, treating her like a buddy. “That’s when I got it,” Nicole said. Her heart opened up. She felt a wave of tenderness. “I thought, hey, this is love. She's giving me love.”
When Nicole was ready to leave the Ranch, IYR Reintegration Services specialists worked with her parents before and during her transition home. Unfortunately, over several months it became obvious that their family environment was not what Nicole needed. After another blowup, by mutual agreement with Nicole, her parents, and IYR, we welcomed her back to Hays to stay until she reached 18. She graduated high school and even completed her Certified Nurses Aid (CNA) training while she was there.
Today Nicole is 20 and doing great. “I haven’t been this stress free for a long time,” she said.
She has close friends, a job, a rich social life and community ties. Nicole rents a house with two roommates, supports herself and is proud of her independence.
At the same time, she knows she can always count on IYR when she needs us. Nicole is still very much a part of the IYR extended family. She thinks of the Ranch as “home” because we were the closest thing to a home she had ever known. She still visits us regularly, is part of our Alumni Association, and comes to our reunions and volunteer events.
Nicole works at a Treasure Valley Jackson’s store, and guess what her favorite part of her job is?
“I LOVE customer service,” Nicole said. “Not to brag or anything, but I am really good at it. Talking with people, remembering their names … I can always make my customers smile.”
To see this bright, outgoing young woman today, full of laughter and confidence, is to see a shining example of what a courageous transformation looks like. We couldn’t be more proud of Nicole and everything she has accomplished.