Your Impact

Shelter in a Rough World

A childhood shaped by foster care gave her a personal understanding of the fear and abandonment experienced by the animals she helps today. A scholarship changed her life.

Lindsey Hidenrite knows firsthand about hope, determination and foster care. They forged her unlikely journey to becoming the UF College of Veterinary Medicine’s first Nicoletti Florida Opportunity Scholar and earning her doctor of veterinary medicine degree this spring.

Her childhood, shaped by years in foster care in Kentucky, gave Hidenrite a personal understanding of fear, abandonment and neglect experienced by the animals she helps today as a veterinarian at Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services. Separated from family and passed from household to household, her trusted companion was her cat, Kandie.

“I was known to get in trouble for reading under the covers past bedtime,” Hidenrite said, with a laugh. “But I always loved learning and had phenomenal teachers who gave me the encouragement to keep going.”

Eventually, she ended up in her grandparents’ care in Jacksonville, where she attended a college preparatory high school. Her love of reading and the sciences, combined with determination, led her to UF, with one year of college credit already completed. She was admitted in 2007 as a Machen Florida Opportunity Scholar, the first in her family to go to college.

“My only constant in life was school,” Hidenrite said. “Knowledge became my power and helped me learn my true potential, regardless of whatever expectations my past placed upon me.”

Volunteering at the Jacksonville Zoo in high school introduced Hidenrite to animal health and influenced her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in zoology. Soon, she began volunteering with Gainesville Pet Rescue, Helping Hands Pet Rescue and other agencies.

Like Hidenrite, Dr. Paul Nicoletti, a professor emeritus of infectious diseases in UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine, had never forgotten the scholarship that made college possible for him so many years ago. Remembering how it spurred him to work hard in school, he contributed to the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program and endowed several other UF scholarships.

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My only constant in life was school. Knowledge became my power and helped me learn my true potential, regardless of whatever expectations my past placed upon me.

— Lindsey Hidenrite —

In 2013, during a celebration for Opportunity Scholars’ donors and recipients, Hidenrite and Nicoletti met, neither guessing the bond that would grow between them. At the event, Nicoletti’s $1 million pledge was announced for a new graduate-level scholarship, modeled after the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarships. His endowment would ultimately provide tuition assistance for students of veterinary medicine who are the first in their families to attend college and have financial need.

Three years later, soon after Nicoletti’s unexpected death, Hidenrite was named the first recipient of the Nicoletti Florida Opportunity Scholarship.

“Emotions swept over me as I walked onto the stage to receive Dr. Nicoletti’s scholarship,” Hidenrite said. “All I could think the whole time was, ‘I wish he was here, I wish he was here.’ I wanted so badly to thank him in person.”

The scholarship, for her, was a final gesture of kindness from her mentor.

Not long after receiving her bachelor’s degree, Hidenrite had begun working as a veterinary technician and discovered Maddie’s Shelter Medicine program at UF. Having achieved one lifelong dream of college, she began the next step in her journey to study veterinary medicine.

During her first year at the College of Veterinarian Medicine, Hidenrite would visit Nicoletti from time to time to share her enthusiasm and progress. She recalled his support, and how he made a special effort to come across campus to hear her presentation on shelter medicine.

“I wanted the doctor of veterinary medicine degree, and I also wanted the certificate in shelter medicine,” Hidenrite said. “The University of Florida was the one place I could get both at the same time.”

Seeking a professional degree was a big step for Hidenrite, who describes herself as frugal and conscientious about spending. She had to work hard for the simplest things that others may have taken for granted — and funding her education was always a big concern.

When Nicoletti died in January 2016, Hidenrite attended his memorial service. She was grateful to meet his family so she could express her gratitude for Nicoletti’s contributions to the original Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship she had received as an undergraduate. She also shared with them her memories of how she had met the professor and how much she appreciated his mentorship.

That spring, Hidenrite attended the college’s professional coating ceremony, marking the completion of her second year of veterinary training. She was not prepared when her name was announced as the first recipient of the Nicoletti Florida Opportunity Scholarship.

Hidenrite hopes to meet future Nicoletti Scholars who, like her, will benefit from his generosity. She wants them to know about the professor behind the gift — and how much he believed in students.

After graduation this spring, Hidenrite returned to Jacksonville to be a veterinarian, the memory of her mentor by her side.

“No one is ever meant to go it alone, and Dr. Nicoletti will forever be a part of my story and my legacy — and so many more stories to come,” Hidenrite said.

Reprinted from Florida Veterinarian magazine, Spring 2017

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