Butler Tech graduate overcomes darkness to help others: ‘My heart is so big’

Skye Coker of Butler Tech pictured with two of her brothers. CONTRIBUTED

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Skye Coker of Butler Tech pictured with two of her brothers. CONTRIBUTED

Skye Coker was determined to break free from the darkness that surrounded her childhood.

Wanting to be an example to her three brothers and other family members, the recent Butler Tech Bioscience Center graduate stepped up as a caretaker, worked as many hours as she could since she was 15 and poured into her studies.

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Now, Coker is already making a life for herself before most of her peers have even finished celebrating the end of high school. After graduating from Butler Tech in Healthcare Science and earning her State-Tested Nurse Aide certification, Coker moved out on her own and is working full-time at Ohio Living Mount Pleasant in Monroe. She plans to start out at a community college and pursue a career in pediatric nursing or as a case worker, attending somewhere like University of Cincinnati-Blue Ash.

“I just want to help kids or help people that go through what I went through,” Coker said.

Coker never really felt like she had a childhood. While other kids were out playing games and enjoying a relatively carefree youth, she was forced to grow up quickly.

Born while her mother was in prison, Coker came from a family full of drug addicts, including her grandparents and both biological parents. Her brother’s dad, whom she felt closest to, died of an overdose in 2011 the day after she had tried to flush his drugs; and her stepfather died a year later after Coker witnessed him overdosing. Her grandmother then died of a heroin overdose.

“That took me to depression and I wanted to kill myself,” Coker said. “I had a lot of suicidal thoughts but the picture of my brothers came to mind because I knew I had to be their example and raise them. I still feel a little guilt.”

Coker and her brothers bounced from house to house when they were young, often having to beg for food. She dealt with abandonment, neglect and even sexual abuse and assault. At age 10, she slept with a baseball bat to protect herself and at one point had to fend off a druggie who was trying to steal her newborn brother’s diaper bag while she was feeding him formula.

Finally at age 12, she and her brothers and cousin were removed from their home in Dayton and put into foster care. They ended up on the news that day. A couple years later, her foster mom was charged with neglect, and Coker bounced around the system again.

Coker has been working since she was 15, paid her way through driving school and bought her first car, and she finished high school with an unweighted grade point average of 3.9 (4.1 weighted) and earned 28 college credits through CCP courses. Coker also was active in blood drives and participated in the Future Health Professionals (HOSA) competitive events program.

“I didn’t get much sleep, but I still moved forward,” Coker said. “School is the key to my future.”

All the while, no one at school was aware until Coker did her senior showcase on all the struggles she overcame. Butler Tech principal Dr. Abbie Cook said she would have never guessed Coker had been through so much, knowing how much she thrived at school.

“Once I learned what her life had been like growing up, I was really surprised … but it’s about how you deal with it and that’s what stood out,” Dr. Cook said. “You would have never have known that, and I would say most of her teachers didn’t know until that fall showcase. It shows she takes adversity and just deals with it and does great things. I knew she was a pretty good student last year but, this year, it’s amazing the changes she made between junior and senior year. She’s been awesome. She’s focused and driven. She’s always there to help the other students. She cares about people. I think she’s definitely going into the right field. I’m very proud. She’s stayed on top, despite all she’s been through.”

Coker continues to help her family, although they are all separated right now. One of her brothers lives with an aunt that recovered from drug addiction, and he is well cared for. Another is with grandparents and the third is still with a foster parent — Coker sends him money to help.

Eventually, she plans on writing a book to help others that face similar struggles. Her passion for others is the one good thing she can pull from her lost childhood.

“My heart is so big,” Coker said. “I’m so forgiving. That’s why I wanted to help people. I also had a great case worker who was so amazing. I got close with her, and I want to be someone for other kids to look up to like I did with her.”

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