Nick Schiller is a Wyoming resident, parent, and community member running for U.S. House of Representatives for Michigan’s 2nd Congressional District. His campaign’s platform has been shaped by his experiences with poverty and personal hardship, and to understand his story, we have to start at the beginning.
Like many Americans, Nick didn’t have a stereotypical upbringing. Shortly after he was born, his father came home one day and discovered Nick’s mother slumped in a chair, passed out with a needle in her arm. Nick’s father, knowing that he could not take care of a baby along with his two other young children, took Nick to live with his grandparents, where he ultimately grew up. It wasn’t long after that his mother was arrested outside of her dealer’s house, and she spent the next decade in and out of prison.
Nick’s story, however, isn’t based on his parent’s failures. While Nick’s father shuffled from city to city towing his other children (Nick’s brother and sister) along with him school to school, Nick grew up in a stable home, an old farmhouse his great-great-grandfather had built in the early 20th century, with his grandparents.
“Looking back, I feel sick knowing that I was given so many advantages that my brother and sister didn’t have.”
Nick’s grandparents raised him as their own and taught him the values of hard work, grit, and standing up for what is right. They made sure that he understood just how hard they had worked to get where they were, and how lucky Nick was to have the opportunity to finish high school and go to college. His grandparents made sure that Nick grew up knowing that if he worked hard, he would be able to create a better life for himself than the one his parents had made for themselves.
Eventually Nick’s father faced addiction as well, leading him to receive a lifetime prison sentence and leaving Nick’s teenage siblings without a caretaker. Nick’s parents robbed his brother and sister of opportunities that he was given time and time again. His siblings were forced to become high school dropouts and fend for themselves as teenagers, while Nick was able to graduate high school with honors.
My life isn’t defined by my parent’s failures, but I have tried to learn from their mistakes.
By taking out federal student loans, Nick was able to move to Allendale and attend Grand Valley State University, becoming the first person in his family to go to college. Nick worked hard, and he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in 2012.
Despite growing up as strangers to both of his siblings, Nick became close with his sister when he moved away to college. Despite working hard since she was 15 years old, Nick noticed his sister had almost nothing to show for it. It became clearer to him as he bonded with his sister just how lucky Nick had been to be raised in a stable home. Shortly after his dad passed away in 2014, Nick’s sister, who was devastated by her father’s passing, asked Nick to take care of her son, Kaleb, if anything were to ever happen to her. Confident that they would never have to worry about that, Nick and his partner assured her that they would be able to take care of Kaleb.
“My sister was one of the first people in our area to be taken by the opioid epidemic. Until we tackle this problem head on, countless other families will lose their loved ones too.”
Nick went on to complete a Master’s degree in Cell & Molecular Biology in 2015, and shortly after completing his final semester, Nick received a call from his brother with news: their sister had overdosed on fentanyl and passed away. With absolutely no parenting experience or preparation, Nick and his husband became parents to an 8-year-old child. In the two years since Kaleb came to live with him, Nick and his husband never once regretted their decision. In November 2017, they officially adopted Kaleb.
In the years since becoming Kaleb’s guardian, Nick was able to see firsthand how poverty and a lack of opportunity can impact the lives of everyone involved. His nephew, who was 8 at the time of his mother’s passing, had to have most of his baby teeth removed because they were completely black and filled with decay. His shoes and clothes were too small for him, and when he began third grade, Nick and his husband were informed that he wasn’t able to read.
“My sister was stuck in the cycle of poverty, and no matter how hard she tried, she was never able to pull herself out of it.”
Nick’s sister had done the best that she could, but as a single mom living on a waitress’s income, she was barely able to provide her son with necessities, let alone give him the attention and tools he needed to be at his best. Living in Three Oaks, she couldn’t provide him with dental care without waiting months for an appointment from a dentist who accepted Medicaid and driving a half hour away. His sister gave it her all to be a better mom than theirs was, making sure that Kaleb never missed a day of school, but she was never able to pull herself out of poverty, and Kaleb’s well-being had suffered as a result.
Because of Nick’s prior opportunities and access to education, he didn’t have to work the grueling hours that his sister did to make the same income. He worked with Kaleb every night before heading to his third shift job to help bring Kaleb up to a third-grade reading level. It wasn’t long before Kaleb saw how his hard work was paying off and when he started fourth grade, he was above the reading level of most of his peers.
“I want to make sure that the same opportunities and support also exists for every other child. Growing up in poverty shouldn’t determine how successful you will be in the future.”
Seeing Kaleb’s transformation from being unprepared for third grade to the top of his fifth-grade class is a constant inspiration to Nick. His campaign was born from his desire to provide a strong support system for all, as Nick has witnessed firsthand how important that is in ending the cycle of poverty.