A different path: how a mentor changed a Citrus County kid's life

Making a difference

Nick Handy was taken from his biological mother at birth when he came out of the womb with drugs in his system. At three years old, he was adopted into a home where he was locked in a room and neglected.

“I remember that waking up in the middle of the night instead of walking out of my room to go use the restroom, I had to use the restroom in a jug, like a milk jug cut in half and when it was full, I dumped it out,” Nick said.

At night, Nick says he would lie awake thinking of a plan to escape.

“When I went to school, I couldn't tell anybody this. I was always sitting in class back. I was always tearing. I was always crying,” he said. “At the time, I almost lost hope.”

His adoptive parents were arrested when Nick was twelve and he was taken back into foster care. That’s where he met Pamela Gary.

“Pam,” he says with a sigh. “If it wasn't for her I most likely would have been, probably in jail.”

Pam is Nick’s Guardian Ad Litem. She was his advocate in court, his mentor, and his friend. And all she had to do to help him beat the odds was be there for him.

“She told me she loves me one time. I remember after she left, I went to the bathroom, I looked in the mirror and I started crying. That was the moment that I started realizing that, like, ‘wow somebody does love me,’” Nick said. “From that moment on it was happy smiles, loving, goofy kid.”

Surveys show at-risk youth are more likely to attend college and stay out of trouble when they have a mentor.

Nick is now an athlete on his high school’s football and basketball varsity teams and has his eyes set on getting a scholarship to attend college.

His success brings Pam’s life full circle.

“I guess it’s what gives my life meaning,” she says choking up. “I don't think many things mean as much to me as this program does.”

For 26 years, Pam has given kids like Nick a voice in court. But there are hundreds of children in the foster care system in the Tampa Bay area who don’t have a Pam.

“Wow, are we ever in need of guardians,” Diana Hollwedel, Guardian Ad Litem recruiter.

Those interested in becoming guardians can sign up here.

Meanwhile, Nick is finally home. Jim and Maureen Handy are now ‘mom and dad’ and Pam is ‘grandma Pam Pam.’

“I would take a bullet for her,” Nick said. “Our bond is unbreakable.”

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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