“I just totally fell in love with working with the moms and the little ones,” she said. Her heart then grew for the organization’s other programs.
These include a community garden that provides participants with their own slice of earth and also has donated thousands of pounds of produce to local food pantries. The organization’s Real Life Teen Choices program teaches middle school and high school students in seven counties about healthy boundaries, relationships, mental health and more. A mentoring program focused on students in Tecumseh Local Schools in Clark County creates bonds and a constant presence in their lives.
“There’s nothing better for a child than to have one caring adult in their life who is consistently there,” she said.
Stefanow was nominated as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem by her daughter-in-law, Erica Stefanow, who has been communications coordinator of FYI since last summer.
“She just has this ability to make everybody feel comfortable. She meets them where they’re at, and there’s no judgement,” said Erica Stefanow, of New Carlisle.
Nikki was her first mentor when Erica herself was part of the parenting network. In addition to encouragement and lessons, FYI gave her confidence and recommended that she get the help she needed as she struggled. She credits the group for saving her relationship with her older son.
Erica called Nikki “a walking hug” with a giving heart who meets obstacles head-on.
“She thinks everyone is worthy of love and everyone is worthy of second chances,” Erica said. “When you’re around that, it’s contagious.”
Nikki Stefanow, who said she didn’t understand her own value for so long, now helps others see it in themselves. Many times, she and her dedicated team of 20 staff and 80 volunteers won’t know when or how FYI was an influence. When she does cross paths with those she has helped, witnessing their success “means everything in the world to me,” she said.
“Every bit of my heart is there because I’m seeing lives changed every day,” she said. “That’s what’s important to me.”