Almost every day, 19-year-old Nia runs – fast.
She’s a second semester freshman on the track team at Rowan College of South Jersey. A sprinter, she competes in 100, 200 and 400–meter dash and relay events. For Nia, running is more than training or about reaching the finish line first.
“I use it as my outlet for anger and all my stress…that’s what pushes me on the track,” she said.
College was Nia’s plan B. She completed high school early and planned to enter the Air Force, but asthma cut that hope short.
When she was 17, Nia lost her father. She had moved in with her grandmother when her caseworker referred her to Gloucester/Salem Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc.’s Life Skills program. An alternative to out-of-home placement in 28 states and the District of Columbia, YAP has special programs for transition-age youth to help them become independent.
“During our time together, Nia started to focus more on her future, such as taking and passing her driving test, purchasing her first car, applying to school, and applying and getting accepted into an independent living apartment building,” said Nia’s YAP Life Skills Coordinator and Advocate Audrey Owens.
YAP Advocates provide intensive mentoring that helps young people see and realize their strengths and gifts while connecting them and their parents/guardians with tools to help firm their foundation.
One of the tools available to YAP participants and their families is the Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education Scholarship. Nia applied for and received the scholarship and opted to use her one-thousand–dollar award for a new laptop computer.
“I just passed my first semester as a nursing major,” she wrote in her scholarship application letter. “I have enrolled in biology, chemistry, psychology, and my second English course for spring. I believe I am a determined student and will do whatever it takes to reach my college and career goals.”
Nia chose nursing because she wants to help people in need, particularly women going through labor and birth. She said her mother is a nurse, so it’s also a tribute to her. Nia’s fortitude is in honor of her late father.
“I know he would want me to use my skills as a hard-working and goal reaching young woman to become the best version of myself,” she said.
Nia said she always believed in herself, but that having a person like Owens, a “good person,” who reinforced those beliefs, came at a time when she needed it.
“My experience with YAP has been great and I have learned many skills from Ms. Owens that I will carry with me throughout my life.”