ST. LOUIS – The definition of HOME is different for many people. For some, it’s where they were born. For others, home may be particular people. Other times home is based on special memories made in certain places at certain times. Whatever the definition, what then is home to a child raised in 14 foster homes and three group homes?
Throughout her life, Navy Counselor 2nd Class Nicole White, leading petty officer at Navy Talent Acquisition Site St. Peters, Missouri, had never truly had a place to call home, until she joined the Navy. Now, home is anywhere the Navy sends her.
At 5 years old, White’s father got custody of her and her twin sister. Up until then, the sisters had been living with their mother. Her dad had remarried and had four kids, so White plus her sister made six. It was nice at first, until things quickly changed for the worse.
“My dad was physically abusive to his wife and to us,” said White. “He was a pastor, so we went to church every Sunday. Even there, I think people knew something was a little off. But they didn’t want to get into it because he was a big part of the community.”
When White and her sister turned 13, a lady from the church called Children and Family Services when she noticed bruises on their bodies.
“They arrested my dad that Sunday,” said White. “That’s when we ended up in foster care.”
But when they went into the foster care system, White and her twin sister were separated and wound up going to different places and living different lives. Because of that, White doesn’t speak to her sister very much anymore.
“When I first got put in foster care, I felt shocked,” said White. “I remember being really confused and sad because my parents and my sister were gone. But within a couple of years, I had figured out how the system worked. I knew that no one was going to adopt me because I was too old, so I learned to stop feeling sorry for myself. I had to keep moving forward.”
Within four years of being in the foster care system, White had been at 17 different types of homes.
“I played hard ball all the time,” said White. “That’s partly why I moved from place to place so much. But it wasn’t always my fault. Sometimes it was the system, or a place had insane rules, or it just wasn’t a good fit. Little stuff like that.”
After staying at a few houses, White still remembers vividly the first time she went a group home.
“The first group home I ended up in was a terrifying experience,” said White. “I remember driving for hours to get there and it was in the middle of nowhere. They put me in a cell. I was crying and hysterical. The only reason I calmed down was because a lady there told me to stop crying, because if I didn’t, they’d put me in the crazy room. Apparently, a lot of the girls there were not doing so well. I’m thankful I didn’t somehow turn out like them.”
After several bad experiences with foster homes and group homes, White decided she would try to get emancipated at 17 years old.
Emancipation, often done with a court order, means that a minor legally becomes an adult.
“I asked a lot of questions and I was probably the most annoying kid a social worker could ever have,” said White. “But after I got all the information and research I could, a judge gave me permission to take care of myself as a 17 year old. I had to take independent living classes, have a stable job and have a certain amount in my savings account. I had to have a plan and be able to prove that I was capable of getting awesome grades in high school while still providing for myself like a parent would do.”
A few years after being emancipated and graduating from high school, White had her first child. But she wanted to better provide for him, so when he was still an infant, White decided to join the Navy.
“I joined because I didn’t want to be another statistic of the system,” said White. “A lot of people in foster care who are abused don’t turn out to have a degree or successful careers. I decided when my son was born that I did not want to end up like that, and I didn’t want my kids to have the same life I did.”
Now that White is a parent, she wants to show her kids that anyone is bigger than their circumstances.
“Everyone around you has the same 24-hour day that you have,” said White. “So you either take advantage of it or you don’t. So, don’t come crying to me. Right now, they’re 11 and five, so they got it pretty easy.”
Since checking into Navy Talent Acquisition Group (NTAG) Mid America, White is an eight-time hall of fame recruiter, is NTAG Mid America’s Junior Sailor of the Year, was awarded four Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and is currently working toward a master’s degree.
“I’m very ambitious, focused and enthusiastic about our recruiting mission and the people,” said White. “I’m also rather persuasive, so that helps in this line of work.”
As one of the best recruiters at NTAG Mid America, White has achieved the pinnacle of accolades and recognition anyone can possibly get. But perhaps her greatest achievement was finally finding a place to call home.
“I love the Navy,” said White. “I admire the Navy and what it’s done for me. The Navy has provided a family for me, molded me into a responsible, respectable woman and mother, and most importantly has taught me the value of leadership by shaping me into a continuously improving leader. And I want to be the one responsible for providing that for someone else.”
NTAG Mid-America’s area of responsibility covers more than 200,000 square miles, encompassing Missouri, Kansas, central and southern Illinois, and a portion of Kentucky. More than 200 officers, enlisted personnel and civilian staff operate 30 recruiting stations, two Navy Officer Recruiting Stations and the headquarters in St. Louis. Additionally, two Military Entrance Processing Stations; one at the headquarters in St. Louis and one in Kansas City, Missouri, handle applicants’ processing, classification, and physical examinations.
For more news from Commander, Navy Recruiting Command, go to http://www.cnrc.navy.mil. Follow Navy Recruiting on Facebook (www.facebook.com/NavyRecruiting), Twitter (@USNRecruiter) and Instagram (@USNRecruiter).