A Hampton mother and military veteran was spotlighted in NBC’s TODAY show segment, “Honoring our Military” Monday in which she received a grand gift.
The segment aired during the show’s 8 a.m hour featuring Natalie Morales, a correspondent for TODAY, who surprised Nakisha Jolanda and her three sons with a new 2019 Nissan Rogue in front of a crowd of her friends and coworkers in Hampton.
“I’m still pinching myself because I can’t believe that actually happened,” Jolanda said.
Camera crews with Morales followed Jolanda in her home, where she works as a work-study student in the VA Medical Center, and around the city earlier this month documenting her story and how she lives now to serve other veterans.
After serving eight years as a culinary specialist in the Navy, Jolanda told Morales in the segment she didn’t easily adjust to civilian life after separating in 2006 and found herself falling into depression and newly divorced. Financial strain would force her and her three sons into homelessness, sleeping in her car on some nights.
She’d remarry, start working, and even wrote a book, The Relationship Handbook, until a lupus diagnosis and other health issues to which she said “I was in bed for weeks and sometimes a month.”
The family was homeless again around the same time Jolanda’s youngest son, Christian, wrote his first book, Being 5, and became an Amazon bestselling author providing the family with what she said was “a gift” during one of their lowest points.
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Now as the founder of her own marketing company, Gift Opener LLC., Jolanda said she aspires to help veterans thrive in their businesses but at the same time, in their personal lives with her work at the VA where she connects veterans with resources like chaplain services and marriage counseling.
“Getting to connect with my brothers and sisters in arms who understand the struggle, you get to see them through their journey to get better and my veterans deserve that,” she told Morales.
The family, Jolanda said, continues to have its ups and downs with last year a record low. On July 4, Jolanda said she attempted suicide by swallowing at least 14 pills requiring her then-husband to save her and then two days later…would leave her.
“I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps and push forward to get to where I am today,” she said. “People were telling me I should go after [my husband] and force him to pay for things, but God was telling me not to do that. He was telling me to be obedient and He’ll reward me and he rewarded me with a 2019 Nissan Rogue.”
More than a new car to replace her 2005 Ford Explorer, Jolanda said Progressive, the company that sponsors the segment, took care of tag and title fees and paid six months of insurance for the vehicle.
Jolanda said her sons are ecstatic about their recent daytime TV appearance and the new car — she laughed at the clip of her youngest son taking the keys from Morales — as the gift came at the start of the boys’ first bi-coastal book tour to promote their new co-written work, Being Brothers.
They sold out of books at their first stop in Peninsula Town Center’s Barnes & Noble store last weekend but will have more for their stop at Barnes & Noble in New Town Shops March 7 before heading to Norfolk, Chesapeake, and then San Diego.
“I’m still in pure amazement…like God is amazing,” she said. “It just made my whole year.”
Watch Jolanda’s “Honoring Our Military” on the TODAY show here: