Sisters Inspire May Youth of the Month

By Erin Meyer

The loss of a loved one can be unsurprising or unexpected. It may happen when a person is young or after he or she has lived a long life. But no matter how or when it happens, that loss changes lives.

Mater Dei High School senior Nicole Richmond was 13 when her older sister and best friend, Melanie, died. Melanie was 16.

Nicole Richmond (left) with her older sisters, Victoria (center) and Melanie (right)

Melanie lived with a condition called basal cell nevus syndrome, or Gorlin’s syndrome. It meant things that Nicole and her oldest sister, Victoria, did easily, like tying their shoes, took more work for Melanie. It also meant trips to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis where Melanie endured open heart surgery and surgery to implant a shunt in her brain. Despite all of the challenges her sister faced, Nicole remembers the strength and bravery Melanie displayed and the happiness she brought to those around her.

“She touched so many people and I think brought out people’s best side. She was a light in any room and could make any person smile or laugh just be being completely herself. She was notorious for her tight, comforting and loving hugs,” Nicole said. “Melanie made me a more positive, joyful person in general. She showed me that life, although sometimes not fair or easy, should not be taken too seriously. She taught me so much about doing the best I can with what I am given.”

Five years after her death, Melanie’s light continues to inspire her younger sister. As a freshman, Nicole joined a team of students to organize Mater Dei Dance Marathon (MDDM), a dance-filled fundraiser for Riley which her oldest sister, Victoria, helped start in 2010. Nicole’s dedication to MDDM as a four-year member and two-year executive council member who personally raised more than $7,700 for this year’s event prompted Victoria to nominate her for May Youth of the Month honors.

Nicole (left) at the 2018 Mater Dei Dance Marathon

“The part that makes me the most proud is Nicole’s ability to take our family’s story and turn it into a compelling story of why people should be involved and care about Riley. I know personally that it’s not always easy to share this story and the heartaches that came with it, but Nicole has done this so well and with so much grace,” Victoria said. “Even as a younger sister, she is absolutely a role model for me and I wanted to be able to show that to her.”

“Victoria is the one person I look up to the most because she went through the same family experience as me but with so much strength and grace. I think, as the youngest sibling, I always sought the approval and attention of my big sister, so hearing her share the news [about this recognition] was extremely special to me. I consider her my biggest role model,” Nicole said. “I always say my sister Melanie is the reason I dance, but I dance for both my sisters, Victoria and Melanie, because they are such big inspirations in my life.”

In addition to her work with Dance Marathon, Nicole serves others through Youth Resources’ Teen Advisory Council. She recently wrote a YR blog post about her experience volunteering at the Dream Center.

“If giving my time to others helps them to live their life differently and better than before, then it’s totally worth it. I think so often a smile, a hug or a conversation can be overlooked in its ability to make an impact,” Nicole explained.

Nicole and other Mater Dei students display the 2018 MDDM total, $41,554.28

“I think having Melanie as an example of inclusion and love gave Nicole the best perspective on life someone can possibly have. I know that Melanie taught Nicole endless amounts of patience, how to include everyone and that a hug can heal just about anything,” said Victoria.

This summer, Nicole will help facilitate Youth Resources’ TEENPOWER leadership conferences as a member of Youth Staff. She plays soccer at Mater Dei and is the student council clerk, as well as a member of the pep and service clubs. Nicole plans to study speech therapy at the University of Tennessee and wants to continue giving back while in Knoxville through Dance Marathon and a church youth group.