My baby saved my life. Now I help save others.


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I chose life for my daughter 10 years ago. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today.

At 20, I had walked down a very dark path and thought that dealing with years of abuse and assault meant immersing myself in drugs, alcohol and risky behavior. I had no purpose or motivation to disrupt this lifestyle, which was numbing my pain.

My positive pregnancy test was the only thing that brought me back to reality, as I stared in terror at the two pink lines in that little window.

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I walked through my fog of emotion and fear to think about what that meant. I knew I was carrying life — that there was only me left — but I had no money and my family refused to support me. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I was determined to find out for my baby’s sake.

Danielle Nicholson’s daughter, Lei’Lani, helped put Danielle on the path to fixing her own life.

There was something about that positive pregnancy test that spurred me on, triggering a deeper urge than I had ever thought I could possess. Imagining my future daughter struggling with the cycle of abuse and trauma that had plagued me for so many years, I burst into tears. “My daughter will NEVER be exposed or subjected to what I have been through,” I promised myself through my tears.

I knew right away that I had to lead a sober life and that I could no longer indulge in laziness. I was determined to be strong and do whatever it took to change my life for her. But where to start ?

It was then that I met Randy and Evelyn, the founders of a local maternity hospital called the Paul Stefan Foundation, who welcomed me with open arms. The following years of learning to take care of myself and my growing baby were the hardest of my life, but they transformed me and my future in incredible ways.

However, my progress has not been linear. I had been hurt all my life and was quick to attack those who tried to help me. Randy and Evelyn met my disrespect and bitterness so gracefully, giving me time to heal and grow into a compassionate woman with their unwavering patience and love.

They did more than just change my behavior. Evelyn recognized that I was just a young girl who needed to be mothered as much as my own baby needed me. She taught me the importance of sticking to a schedule, how to manage my money well, that my appearance matters and that my daughter should always be my first priority. She and Randy brought people in to teach the other women and me how to cook, organize and budget. They offered me and other moms a weekly parent and baby education through a community resource, where I learned crucial information about my pregnancy and my baby’s development. These classes continued for years after my daughter was born to ensure she reached her developmental milestones.

I lived at the Paul Stefan Foundation for five years and remained involved with the house for a total of 10 years. Their impact and resources not only helped me get an education, but also inspired me to find my life calling.

Randy’s tough love has helped me learn independent life skills such as how to change a flat tire on my car, lead a healthy lifestyle, act like a professional, and motivated me to put my emotions aside so that I can achieve my goals. He spent hours of his time making sure I was fully equipped for a successful career once I left the shelter of home. “Comfort doesn’t matter,” he would say, “you have a job to do and people to defend.” His advice inspired me and I promised myself that I would never let a circumstance in life bring me down again.

Evelyn helped connect me with the Virginia Career Works Center, where I learned how to write a resume and find agencies, jobs, and companies. This program helped me get into college, navigate the education system, buy textbooks, and even earn minimum wage through a scholarship program. I earned this money by volunteering at the Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services Board, SAFE: Services to Abused Families Inc. and Head Start classrooms. As a result, I was offered a substitute teaching position in the Early Head Start program, in the same class as my then 15-month-old daughter.

Danielle Nicholson and her daughter Lei'Lani

Danielle Nicholson and her daughter Lei’Lani

Evelyn’s selfless and loving example sparked a deep passion in me for children. As I watched Evelyn shower unceasing love on my daughter and other women’s children, I realized I was called to be a social worker, to advocate for this type of love to be used to break family cycles. of trauma and abuse. So many people have no one to love them, I thought, and so many feel trapped in dark situations like I once was. What if I could help people heal, or be the person I so desperately needed for someone else?

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Today, I am a foster care social worker with the Virginia Department of Human Services, where I have been promoted five times since 2017. I attribute my success to the perseverance, professionalism, and compassion that Randy and Evelyn taught me. They never let me give up on myself; they pushed me to do more than I could have ever dreamed of accomplishing. Most importantly, I know my daughter is watching my example and I want her to see that she is capable of great things if she works hard and has grace.

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So many women resort to abortion because they think it’s their only option or that their baby will keep them from achieving their goals. I wish I could comfort these women and tell them how much keeping my baby has motivated me to achieve all the goals I set for myself.

I would tell them that I named my daughter Lei’Lani, which means royal child of heaven.

Why? I tell anyone who will listen — God sent her to me to save my life.


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