All her life, 25-year-old Nichole Shaver has considered herself a survivor. Her angry, abusive parents were also survivors, as a result of the circumstances of their own past lives. When Nichole was a child, her family moved often. Her father worked long hours, and her mentally ill mother raised her children the only way she knew how, with abuse and without direction. No matter what she did as a little girl, Nichole says, “It never seemed good enough.”
Her dad left the family when Nichole was eight years old, and she has not seen him since. As she grew older, things got worse.
“I gave up in school,” she says, “and did everything I could to run from the pain.” She found herself on the streets, in and out of juvenile detention, using drugs and having sex, anything to make the pain of her life go away.
As she moved from one state to another and another, Nichole’s mother built up more debt and made more enemies along the way. Nichole felt she had no friends, and dropped out of school. When she was old enough to get a job, she went to work. She worked as much as she could, saving money with the hope of eventually getting out of the conditions of her life. Then her mother moved again, and the hard-earned savings went to support both Nichole and her mother.
Shortly after moving to the new house, Nichole realized that she was pregnant by a much older man. She did not tell anyone of her pregnancy for five months as she continued to work “to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.” Once she told her mother that she was pregnant, Nichole was on her own.
“I took every parenting class I could,” she says. “I didn’t just want to end up a 16-year-old statistic.” When she held her son, she says she knew she would be a better mom for having taken the classes. She continued to work as hard as she could to support her son and herself, and also completed her GED. Yet, despite the strides she had made, Nichole says,“I just lost myself during those years.”
“Then I fell in love,” she recalls, “and it was great for the first year… [until] I got pregnant with my daughter and the fighting began.”
Suffering from severe postpartum depression, she became seriously ill and underwent several surgeries. Her whole world fell apart as her relationship with her boyfriend soured. When doctors were not able to diagnose exactly what her health problems were, and her boyfriend continued to verbally abuse her, Nichole started using meth, in addition to the meds her doctors had prescribed for her.
Eventually she was diagnosed with endometriosis and underwent a hysterectomy at the age of 22. It was at that time that she sought treatment for her addiction to meth and began the long process of healing. She has been sober for two and a half years now. D
Despite efforts on both of their parts, the relationship with her boyfriend ended. Still, she says, “I could finally be there for my kids again.”
Once again, Nichole had to pick up the pieces and start over. With no job, no money, no close friends, no family to rely on, she did everything she could to stay afloat. At that point, her only choice was a homeless shelter in Saint Paul. After living at the shelter for a month, Nichole attended Saint Paul’s Project Homeless Connect (PHC), a one-day event that brings services to people who are homeless.
While at PHC, Nichole connected with one of the providers there, YWCA of Saint Paul. Nichole had called the YWCA , but seeing them in person made all the difference.
“That is where I met my angel, Cristine Zimba,” she says, and Cristine helped her through the application process, told her about programs that could help, was always there to listen when things were hard at the shelter, and helped Nichole get to the interviews prior to moving into the Y’s Transitional Housing.
Nichole has learned much about herself during the past two years, as she progressed through a program that assists homeless women with children move toward self-sufficiency and independent living. Along the way, Nichole earned an associate’s degree in Business and Marketing. Last year, Nichole began working at a retail store in the Midway area of Saint Paul, and has worked her way up to become a store manager. She has saved enough money for a deposit and the first month’s rent for a place of her own, and has set up a date to move.
Her family life has improved, too. Recently her son received a Youth Achievers Award from the YWCA. She now gets along better with her daughter’s father, and they share custody of her.
Leena Jacobs, her current case manager, says Nichole is “an awesome example of using the services we provide. We’re really proud to see her successful in her job and in her family.”
While Nichole acknowledges there will still be obstacles in her life and challenges to meet, she says she has learned to manage her stress better. She looks forward to fulfilling her dreams and being an inspiration to her children.
“I’m ready to go back out in the world,” Nichole says. “I am ready to be successful. Being a survivor is part of my past and I am very grateful that I will be leaving it that way.”
Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of St. Paul, lives in the North End neighborhood. Now working as a freelance writer, Mary is retired from the St. Paul Public Schools. She also served as editor of the North End News, a community newspaper.