Embracing Identity, Making a Difference

Within VOA’s dedicated team of compassionate individuals, Nicholaus has found a purpose and a safe space to make a difference. As a previous support staff at VOA's Open Arms program and a case manager for the options transitional program, Nicholaus works tirelessly to assist families who are facing the challenges of substance misuse. Their story reflects the power of embracing one's identity and the profound impact of acceptance on personal growth.

Nicholaus's journey began in a household where they felt a disconnection from their father, a military drill sergeant, and their older brother. Feeling distant, Nicholaus sought solace elsewhere, eventually turning to substances as an escape from the pain of family life.

“When I first started using it helped me feel better about myself. It helped me not think about my dad telling me 'You're going to be a no-good dope user, just like your mother.' Using, took away all of that negativity away.”

The grip of addiction took hold, and they found themselves battling meth misuse and grappling with an HIV-positive diagnosis. Faced with rejection from their family, Nicholaus became homeless.

Amidst the hardships, Nicholaus found VOA's Open Arms program—a shelter designed for individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. The program offered a lifeline, providing not only a safe space, but also comprehensive support through case management, life-skills training, health education, permanent housing assessment, and referrals to other essential services.

“Even though it's 2023, there are still a lot of people who are HIV positive that still need shelter.”

It was within these compassionate walls that Nicholaus began to rebuild their life. Nicholaus's tenacity and resilience led them to earn a bachelor's degree in social work. Driven by a desire to make a positive impact, they transitioned into a role as a case manager for VOA.

Their personal experiences fueled a profound empathy for others facing similar struggles, propelling them to support and guide individuals toward a path of recovery and stability.

“I have seen how helpful and beneficial it was for me and I figured, well if that helped me, maybe I could do something like that to help somebody else.”

Reflecting on their transformative journey, Nicholaus acknowledges the pivotal role played by VOA's staff members. Their unwavering support, warm welcome, and genuine care served as beacons of hope during the darkest times. Nicholaus emphasizes that it was the compassion and acceptance received that truly made a difference in their life. As they graduated from the program, Nicholaus's appreciation for VOA's inclusive environment grew stronger, motivating them to continue creating a safe haven for others.

“People don’t realize how gender discrimination affects mental health, substance abuse, and minority stress. Microaggressions over time can lead to substance abuse.”

By sharing their own experiences, Nicholaus hopes to raise awareness about the profound impact of discrimination and foster a more supportive and understanding society.

Nicholaus's remarkable journey from personal struggle to becoming an invaluable asset within Volunteers of America serves as an inspiration to all. Their unwavering dedication to helping others overcome challenges, coupled with their lived experience, amplifies the impact they have on the lives they touch. Nicholaus embodies the spirit of VOA's mission, fostering an environment where staff members and clients alike can embrace their true selves and find acceptance.

Help support more individuals like Nicholaus this pride month. Show your support by donating to VOA.