Birds twitter and tree leaves rustle outside the door of freshman Nia Nelson’s dorm. Finally, she has some peace and quiet.
Nelson moved into her studio apartment at FIU this summer. She moved in early for good reason.
For nearly two years, Nelson was homeless. She and her family lived on the streets of Miami before moving into Chapman Partnership, a residential facility providing comprehensive support and stable housing.
But in the face of this challenge, Nelson stepped up. She earned a 3.9 GPA at iPrep Academy. Today, she is receiving the Homeless Tuition Exemption, a scholarship to FIU. Nelson is studying nursing.
“[Living at FIU] has allowed me to take care of things that I couldn’t do before. Now I have time to go to the store, or do my work whenever, or sleep in when I don’t have any work or do extracurricular things when my work is done,” Nelson said.
Hitting the snooze button and buying groceries may seem like mundane activities to the average college student, but not to Nelson. These are cherished moments in a life that has been an absolute grind.
As a high school student, Nelson attended classes in the mornings like any other teenager. But similarities in routine between her and her classmates stopped there. She did her homework not at home, but either at school or in a fast food restaurant. Her nights were spent in a dormitory with her mother and four younger siblings at Chapman Partnership. It was a supportive environment, but it came with many rules and curfews.
“I barely had free time. When I did have time to myself, I just liked to listen to music a lot. I would drown myself out with music,” Nelson said.
Between school work and family time, Nelson volunteered at Aventura Hospital & Medical Center as part of a school requirement. She shadowed the nurses and doctors, watching how they interact with people and treat their patients.
Each trip to the hospital required Nelson to take three different buses, but she didn't complain. In fact, in the two years that she volunteered in Aventura, the Miami native never told the doctors and nurses she was homeless. She didn’t tell people at school, either. They all found out when she was featured on NBC’s Today Show.
“If I would have known that she was homeless, would I have treated her differently? Probably yes. Probably like someone who has a disability. She didn’t want us to know,” creative writing teacher Melissa Keller said in an interview with NBC.
While Nelson attends FIU, her mother and siblings are still living with Chapman Partnership. The family remains very close.
“Nia is a symbol of hope and a symbol of possibilities,” said Symeria Hudson, president and CEO of Chapman Partnership. “I think we have been able to help her break a cycle of homelessness. Unfortunately, it plagues our communities where if a parent is homeless, the child typically is. I think we helped break that cycle in that family."
“I feel that she will be successful at FIU because of the traits she has demonstrated. She responds to her emails, follows up and is always on top of things,” Program Director Ana Ramos ’10, MS ’11 said.
Nelson's persistence is self-evident. A year ago, she became the first person in her family to earn a high school diploma. Now, she is ready to take in the university experience and launch her career as a nurse.
“I enjoy working with people, interacting, just making a conversation," Nelson said. "People depend on me, so I have a feeling that I can be depended upon."