Nicole Cook sometimes speaks about her journey with tears in her eyes, but she says every trial and challenge she has faced in her life has been a gift for her to learn from.
"Life is a beautiful journey."
Cook recently moved to Saskatoon with her family. As the chief operations officer of Hope's Home, Cook said it made sense to leave Regina to be able to support the continuing expansion of the medically-integrated daycare.
Caring for children is important for Cook, who explained that she didn't have a lot of support in her own childhood growing up in Prince Albert, Sask. She described her childhood home as abusive, and her goal as a child as survival.
There would be times, Cook said, that her grandfather would come take care of her and her siblings. It was after one of these periods that Cook said she believes her grandpa must have said something to her mother, who then moved the family to Meath Park, Sask.
That's where Cook went to high school, joined a basketball team, and found friends who Cook called a big part of her life.
"You know, they took care of me," Cook said. When there were tournaments, her friends' parents would send along their leftovers so Cook would have food to eat.
Cook said she got her first job when she was 14, working 15-hour days to support her "addiction to basketball".
Push to become LPN
When Cook graduated, her mother pushed her to go to school in Prince Albert to become a licensed practical nurse, even though Cook said she really didn't know what nursing was.
"My mom holds a lot of guilt for our childhood. I just love her. She did the best that she could. And she tends to come into my life when I need her the most."
Getting into nursing, Cook said, was like finding her true love.
"Nursing was amazing to me. I was proud to be the first child in my family to graduate high school, but also to graduate with a diploma in nursing."
It was during her time in school that Cook found her husband and gave birth to her oldest son, Ethan. Her baby was diagnosed with tracheomalacia and laryngomalacia, and would have to undergo five surgeries and be tube fed until he was three and a half years old.
"Not only was the trauma from my childhood really rough, but then to have a child that, like, I couldn't control anything that happened to him. You know, you fight so hard for your child."
Supporting children with medical needs
Cook struggled to find child care for Ethan when she was going to start working at Regina's Pasqua Hospital. But then she heard an ICU nurse who, while on her maternity leave, was running a daycare in her home and would be able to support Ethan's needs.
Cook said she still remembers walking into Jacqueline Tisher's home for the first time, seeing children playing who required feed bags and oxygen.
Tisher was holding a cup of coffee as she looked at Ethan.
"She looked directly at him and she was the first person to ever recognize him as a human being, as a boy. She said, 'What a beautiful baby boy you have.'"
Tisher would ask Cook to join her in Hope's Home, Cook said. Now, nearly 11 years later, they have gone from caring for four children in a Regina home to having spaces for nearly 500 children across the province.
Cook said it's still amazing to see children, who she refers to as her "kiddos", in the daycare being able to thrive.
She spoke about recently being able to comfort a little girl whose leg was hurting.
"I grabbed her in my arms and I held onto her. And I just loved her. It was the most amazing feeling at that time because it reminded me, it was like, oh yeah, that's why we're here. We're here for these kids."
Cook laughs as she says opening new locations for Hope's Home is what she does best; there's new spaces in Saskatoon and a 90-space daycare that just opened in Warman. She said she hopes to open 76 more spaces in Saskatoon.
Even more than opening new daycare spaces, Cook said she hope to guide people, inspiring her staff and kid as they face their own trials in their lives.
Finding value in the person she is
A self-described workaholic, Cook said winning a CBC Future 40 award made her start to value herself.
"I think it was the first time I ever felt proud of myself."
Recognizing work done by peers, coworkers and friends acknowledges their hard work and their journey, Cook said, adding she thinks we all need to do that for each other.
Nominations for the 2017 CBC Future 40 are open from Oct. 9 to 17.