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Nicole Abbott, a sophomore at Bellevue University, saw pageants as a way to showcase her story of living in foster care and help others feel not alone.

One Bellevue University student has overcame adversity and brought her story to light.

Nicole Abbott, a sophomore psychology major and first-generation college student, has looked to pageantry and her experience in the foster care system as motivation to create a new narrative for herself.

Foster care

Starting at age 2-and-a-half, Abbott was in the foster care system, and eventually aged out of the system when she turned 18.

Abbott said she developed mental health illnesses, inherited from both sides of her biological families, and never had contact with her father, who was in prison the first 14 years of her life.

“Growing up, I started developing a lot of the same issues and mental illnesses from my mom and her mom — ADHD, bipolar, major depressive disorder and anxiety,” she said.

Abbott said her adoptive parents sent her to live at Boys Town when she was 10.

“It really made things a lot harder for me, being taken away from my family I had known my whole life,” she said. “Boys Town didn’t work out very well, and I was transported to the Heartland Family Service shelter for a couple months while they figured out my bed in the Boys Town Intensive Residential Treatment Center.”

A year at Boys Town’s IRTC, Abbott graduated and was moved into one of her more than 20 foster homes after she became a state ward.

She briefly lived with her biological father for almost a year before he returned to prison.

Abbott said her senior year at Bellevue West High School was when she had a real wake-up call.

“I wasn’t really doing that well with friends, I wasn’t partaking in the right activities, I was behind on credits and I was being told I wasn’t going to graduate and walk with my class,” she said.

“I had gotten into a verbal argument that turned physical with one of my foster parents. She ended up calling the police and I was arrested and charged with assault, and I was transported to the Douglas County Correction Center.”

Abbott spent a week at the DCCC before the charges were dropped.

“I think that was definitely my wake-up point where I really needed to get my life together and start making better choices,” she said.

From then, Abbott said she went back to school ready to work hard to earn her high school credits and graduate, and was able to walk with her class.

College life

During her senior year, Abbott was working with a counselor who recommended BU as a college option.

“Initially, I never thought I ever wanted to go to college,” she said. “I applied and was accepted, and it was a big moment for me.”

Abbott became involved in programs for foster youth in Nebraska, including the Education and Training Voucher and the Bridges to Independence.

Prior to being accepted at BU, Abbott had written an entrance essay, “Not Another Statistic” on the statistics of foster youth attending college — less than 3%.

“Statistically speaking, I should be homeless, pregnant and any kid I would have had would be in foster care,” she said of her essay. “I should be in jail, I should be addicted to drugs and I should just be going down the worst possible path in life.”

The essay quickly resonated with Abbott.

“I think growing up, I didn’t have a lot of role models and a lot of situations and people I didn’t want to be like,” she said. “I think that was my motivation to really break the cycle.”

Pageantry

After spending her freshman year at four different high schools, Abbott came across pageantry.

In 2016 and 2017, Abbott competed in Miss Nebraska Teen USA.

Though Abbott said she initially applied just to compete, she found pageants have helped her in more ways than she ever expected.

“First competing in pageants, I was almost weighing about 200 pounds and not living a healthy lifestyle and wasn’t competing for the right reasons,” she said. “I met so many girls who were the most genuine, down-to-earth girls. They helped me grow as an individual in self confidence.”

After a brief hiatus, Abbott is competing once again in the Miss Nebraska USA pageant.

“I have been working in the gym and have been eating super healthy — I’ve not only grown with bettering my mental state and bettering my confidence and life, but as well as bettering stuff I put in my body, and how I take care of it,” she said. “I’m excited to compete this year.”

The future

Abbott’s goals include winning Miss Nebraska USA, as well as continuing her education to work toward helping foster youth.

“When I was in the system, I used to always say I couldn’t wait to age out and I want to get as far away from the system as I can,” she said. “Initially when I started to compete in pageants, I competed for the wrong reasons and didn’t want to talk about my story.”

Abbott said she hopes her story can help others in a similar situation.

“Ultimately, I was just motivated and wanted to motivate others,” she said.

“I want to be an advocate for youth aging out of the system and emphasize the importance of going to college and not letting their past traumas or past troubles keep them from going to school or getting jobs.”

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