Nicole Rodriguez became a foster child at 14 and remained in an Orlando group home until she turned 18. Six months ago, at age 22, she bought her first house. When asked what thoughts ran through her mind at achieving this milestone at such a young age she answered: “The very first thing I thought of was all the people in my life who told me I would never amount to anything.”
There is great satisfaction for her in having proved those unnamed people wrong, and gratitude for having found her way three years ago to Orlando Lutheran Towers and all the people there — staff and residents — who believed in her.
"I started here because I heard through a family friend that there was a job open at the reception desk. I worked the front desk for two years and a year ago transferred into Home Health. I do the scheduling and intake," she said. "I've worked at a few different places and this is the only one I really look forward to every day."
At Orlando Lutheran Towers, Nicole said, she has found her family and the appreciation of family is something her experience of foster care has made sweeter. She was a rebellious teenager, she said, drinking at 14 and becoming more than her mother — suffering with a seizure disorder and caring for her own mother who was ill with breast cancer — could handle.
"It was really hard being in the group home. I was the only one who stayed the full four years so the residents and staff were always changing. It was difficult to make friends. I really had little contact with the outside world except for school. But I had counseling there and that really helped tremendously. After a while they allowed me to go home for the weekends, so that was good."
School was another difficulty.
"At Boone High School I was a straight F student. Then I started going to the Workforce Advantage Academy High School and got straight A's. There were only 160 students there and everyone, including the principal and teachers, helped me tremendously," she said.
At the Academy, a charter that is an Orange County public high school, students spend half their time completing the public school curriculum and the other half in a paid work internship, for which they receive school credit as an elective.
She is currently four credits shy of an A.S. degree in Baking & Pastry Arts but is rethinking her career direction.
"When I started college I really wanted to open my own baked goods business. Now I think I would like to do it on the side and instead take courses in business management and administration. I would like to make health care management my career," Nicole said.
Her change in career thinking has been an organic progression as she has come to meet and know different people at Orlando Lutheran Towers. When she was stationed at the reception desk, she said, she would have many wonderful and enlightening conversations with residents.
"It made me realize I'm not the center of the universe and no matter how well people appear to be doing, everyone is dealing with something difficult in their life or have overcome something. It made me realize everything is not just about me and, gradually, I started prioritizing things in my life," Nicole added. "That's how I set a goal to buy a house."
Now, at almost 23, she describes her relationship with her mother and stepfather as "great" and said she goes to visit them almost every weekend. Her only contact with her biological father has been through letters because he has been incarcerated since she was three years old.
"It's like a knitted blanket here (at Orlando Lutheran Towers)," Nicole said. "Everything nice someone does is carried on in a continuous line of kindness."
Orlando Lutheran Towers is a supporter of Each One, Help One — a program run by City of Life — that aims to match foster teens with employment opportunities that will provide them with mentors, confidence and professional skills. The program was unveiled at a March 21, 2013 media event held at Orlando Lutheran Towers.