This Miss America is on the shy side.
Nakeiva Wallace, 26, a Crafton native, admits this as she smiles hesitantly for a photo at the offices of Life'sWork of Western Pennsylvania, a not-for-profit group in the Hill District that helps adults and youths ready themselves for employment and find jobs.
The polite and petite mother of three, nicknamed Miss America by one Life'sWork staff member, might not like being in front of the camera, but she has the look for it with her hair coiffed in an intricately braided updo she styled herself.
She's a 2011 graduate of Empire Beauty School, and she's also recently self-unemployed. She left a job at Target in November because of the barrier of transportation.
"They wanted me to do 4:30 to 11:30 at night and I couldn't do it because of the last bus," Ms. Wallace said of the store in Ross. She lived in Homewood.
She has yet to take her State Board of Cosmetology exam, but she says she would welcome a position as an assistant or a receptionist.
For now, she spends 20 hours a week, Monday through Thursday, job searching and training at Life'sWork, whose staff she thanks in her polite way -- "Miss Stacy; she's downstairs in the computer lab. Mr. Frank, Ms. Heidi because I had housing issues."
The five-hour-a-day "Work Ready" program Ms. Wallace takes part in is designed to help people on their way back into the workforce. That road for her has been rough of late, especially since the week after Halloween when she left her job.
She ran into problems looking for housing when trying to move herself and her 8-, 6- and 1-year-old daughters out of Homewood -- she says she gave up her Section 8 voucher (now known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program) when she failed repeatedly in her search.
"I couldn't find anything," she said, "so I just started filling out applications, going to talk to people in the rental offices," which paid off with a three-bedroom she eventually signed a lease for in Wilkinsburg, up the street from her mother, who Ms. Wallace says she appreciates as a built-in baby sitter.
It has been literally back-to-back life changes since then, with enrolling in the Life'sWork program one Monday and then moving the next day.
And now Christmas is coming.
"I've had a hectic year," she said.
She is trying to adjust, as are her girls, Nataeya Johnson, the eldest and bookworm; Chayona Wallace, the hip-hop-loving ballerina; and Justice Williamson, the baby and troublemaker. Nataeya, shy like her mother, is supposed to have her own room, "but they all want to sleep in the same room," Ms. Wallace says.
Last year, Santa did her shopping at Walmart and with help from their grandmother, too, the girls got scooters, baby dolls, coats, coloring books, school supplies.
This year, a Toys for Tots distribution at Life'sWork in mid-December helped Ms. Wallace and dozens of other parents like her -- 110 children of Life'sWork clients were served.
While Ms. Wallace spends her days in her vocational program at Life'sWork, Nataeya and Chayona attend Pittsburgh Minadeo Elementary School and Justice is at Stubblefield's Home Day Care in Homewood.
"They don't want a lot of stuff. They're not children that want a lot," Ms. Wallace said. "But I try my best."
The Post-Gazette's Goodfellows Fund has helped make sure that needy children end up with toys every Christmas since 1947. Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program and the Salvation Army's Treasures for Children program by visiting www.post-gazette.com/goodfellows.
Today's total: $11,810
Grand total: $133,709.81
David and Lauren Chervenick $1,500
In memory of Peg and Jack $500
In memory of Kevin Rayman $500
Allan Block $400
In memory of Bernie, Rita and William Boehm $300
Dr. R.A. Labriola $300
Paul and Aileen Stefano $250
Thomas Szczepanski $250
BNY Mellon Community Partnership Employee Funds $225
VeeAnne Petitte $200
Dolores Innamorato $200
Karen Beck $200
The Milton Burkart and Patricia Crummie Charitable Trust $200
Larry Basinski $200
Jim, JoAnn and Buddy Hockenberry $150
In memory of Tom Poliziani $150
"Dave and Bea" $150
David and Molly Miller $150
J. Lee Goddard $122
Richard and Lynda Germano $100
The Hurka family $100
Ruth Olliffe $100
Justin P. Stefano $100
Doina Locke $100
In memory of Archie Leone $100
Pittsburgh Fire Training Academy Local 1 $100
Colette and Charlie Coughlin $100
Bob and Fay Kane $100
In memory of E. Dale George $100
J.T. Lauffer, Lily Lauffer and Mason Boehm $100
Jane and Bob Otte $100
Paul Dodworth $100
Jim Huntington $100
Erin family $100
Gary Vallano $100
Lindsay Baxter and Brian Henry $100
Stanley Gritz $75
Katherine Holter $75
Trish and Paul Birk $75
Terence Kelly $60
Aidan, Collin and Tristan O'Connor $60
Michelle Steinmetz $55
Jim Metzger $50
Bert and Bonnie Moore $50
Rege and Mary Q. $50
In memory of Randy, Judy, Gilbert and Russell $50
John Sherby $50
In memory of Casey and Paulie $50
In memory of Elaine Lewis $50
Alison Kresh $50
In memory of Mom and Dad Fossick $50
Gloria M. Lott $50
Bernie Zanavich II $50
The McClelland family $50
In honor of Aaron, Zachary and Emma $50
The Jacob/Younkins/Straub/LeVan families $50
In memory of Gerry Ann Ehland $50
L. Whiteman $50
Mark Gaudio and Patricia Wacaster $50
William J. Proudfoot $50
In honor of Stacey and Stephanie Jackson $50
Bernie and Barbara Erhart $50
Patti Katrincic $50
In memory of Art DiBucci from Lynne, Jay and Evan Airhart $50
Andy Webster $50
Dominique and London Scaife $50
John and Deb Thompson $50
H. Sachs $50
A. Boskovic $50
Kenneth Syrko $50
In honor of Bud $40
Mark Carano $40
The Lang family $40
Alan Gillis $30
Little Grandma and Big Grandma $30
In honor of military dependent children $30
Linda Herrmann $30
Richard and Rhonda Bennett $30
In memory of Andrew Hetzer and 26 Angels, Newtown, CT $26
In loving memory of Anthony "Slo-Mo" Jackson from kids Neesa, T.J. and Anthony Jr. $25
In loving memory of Lawrence "Melai" Ramsey from wife Barbara and son Drew $25
J. Skowvron $25
James L. Wigton $25
In honor of Rachel and Jacob Yakima $25
Stanley and Susan Michalski $25
Chuck and Carmella Hallstein $25
John A. Sacco $25
In memory of Al Sylvester $25
Don and Doris Dumrauf $25
Walt and Joanne Kalyn $25
In memory of Baby Michele Tkach, Gram $25
E. Walendziewicz $25
Ruth Heath $25
Greg Victor $25
Perry Highway Post 161 The American Legion $25
Dawn Mann $25
Alice Loughney $25
In memory of Virginia Boocks $25
Ruth Kuminkoski $25
In memory of Newtown kids $25
In memory of Bob, Oskar, and Alekos $20
Marie A. Murphy $20
In tribute to ex-Heinz talent $20
In memory of Howard Eck $20
Virginia Perry $20
Elizabeth Wellons $20
Tod McDonald $20
Paulette Reddinger $20
Cara Feldman $20
In memory of daughter Linda, from Carolyn Steiner $20
Marvin Aaron $20
Deborah Vaccarello $20
Angela Ferris $20
In memory of Michael Miller from Mom $20
Fay Friedman $15
In memory of my mother, Helen McMarlin $12
Ruth Weiss $10
Alice E. Backstrom $10
In memory of my brother Louis Novak $10
In honor of daughter Karly and grandson Nathan Slomer $10
Nadine Nethen $10
Kathleen Braunegg $10
Melvin and Gail Barry $10
Karl Doring $10
Ron Peters $10
Nancy M. Lindsay $10
In memory of Chester, Stella, and Chester Sciechowicz Jr. $10