OCONOMOWOC — Nicole Escobia was at a sleepover at her friend’s home in April when she received the call that would forever change her life.

“I got the call early in the morning that my mom had passed away from complications after heart surgery. I started crying and my friends gave me a group hug. I’m glad I wasn’t alone,” said the Okauchee resident.

Escobia’s father had lost his battle with cancer in January of 2019.

Just two months shy of her 18th birthday, the high school senior suddenly was dealing with the grief of losing both parents, while trying to find ways to pay for their funeral arrangements and support herself.

“None of my family lives close to me, so I didn’t have many options for where I could stay that was close to school. My neighbor KC helped me a lot when my dad passed away, so I went over to her house to ask for help,” said Escobia.

KC Kleinhenz describes her home as a 100-year-old, 600-square-foot cottage in Okauchee. The structure may be small, but inside there is obviously a lot of heart.

“God bless Nicole. I said she could move in with me in a heartbeat. I just wanted her to be comfortable and safe. She has been through a lot and I’m so proud of her — she is absolutely wonderful,” she said with emotion.

Not only did Kleinhenz agree to be Escobia’s emergency temporary guardian, she also continues to be a soft landing as the young woman in her care journeys through her last months of high school with the weight of so much uncertainty swirling around her.

“KC has helped me out with so many things,” Escobia said. “She has her own financial stress, so she can only do so much. I’m just so grateful.”

Karen Kujawski, outreach/ support coordinator with The Lighthouse Project through NAMI Southeast Wisconsin, said Kleinhenz has an enormous heart.

“She has been the pillar of strength Nicole has needed,” Kujawski said. “No child should endure what Nicole has. As strong as she has been, she really needs the community to rally around her.”

A bright future

Escobia graduated this last Saturday with honors from Oconomowoc High School and plans to study marketing and international business at UW-Madison in the fall. Her hard work and dedication to academics despite what she was enduring in her personal life earned her a place in the competitive Powers-Knapp Scholarship Program.

“I worked hard for my grades, and I always try to stay true to what I’m passionate about,” Escobia said. “I really like learning and going to school. My 5th grade teacher Mr. Darnell introduced me to the Harry Potter books and I fell in love with reading.

“My parents always read to me when I was little and instilled in me the importance of working hard in school. More than anything, I just want to make my parents proud.”

OHS counselor Scott Bakkum also nominated Escobia for this year’s Glenn Davis Grant and Award. The charitable foundation gives monetary awards to Waukesha County graduating students who have overcome substantial obstacles.

“I started spending a lot of time in Mr. Bakkum’s office after my dad passed away when I was a sophomore,” Escobia said. “It was such a confusing time and it helped to know there was someone I could go to with resources when I was super lost.

Bakkum said there has been a huge constellation of people who have provided Escobia with love and support during this devastating time.

“She has such grace and is mature beyond her years and is so deserving of happiness,” Bakkum said. “I’m excited for her to live the life she deserves.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help raise funds to pay for Nicole’s living expenses, as well as her parents’ funeral costs. For more information, visit https://gofund.me/52ef53c2.