Nicole Rocco met her fiance, Antone Grace, nine years ago when they were working at the now-defunct Potato Sack in Monroeville Mall.
Now, Ms. Rocco and Mr. Grace, of Wilmerding, have seven children and a busy schedule.
"We just never parted," she said.
Life with seven children -- Antonio, 8; twins Alessia and Angellea, 6; Antwone, 4; Aleah, 2; Amahd, 1; and Amen, 9 months -- can "get hectic," Ms. Rocco said.
She recently began a 15-month program to become a medical assistant and spends her days at school while Mr. Grace, a tattoo artist, stays at home with "the little ones." Ms. Rocco's mother, Juliann Cecere, helps out, too.
"They love their Grandma," Ms. Rocco said.
Ms. Cecere's home was decked out for Christmas just days after Thanksgiving -- multicolored lights cast a festive glow in her Braddock Hills living room on Sunday. Two-year-old Aleah fit in perfectly, toddling around in a red dress and a Santa hat.
While Ms. Rocco is completing her education, her oldest children -- Antonio, Alessia and Angellea -- attend an after-school program run by Citizens to Abolish Domestic Apartheid of North Versailles.
"I want to make an example that you don't stop," Ms. Rocco said of her schooling.
Antonio, Alessia and Angellea receive a hot meal and help with homework and preparing for tests every weekday from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.
"It's so hard to help them with their homework with the little ones," Ms. Rocco said. But, she added, she wants them to do their best in school. She noted that Antonio was on the honor roll for the most recent grading period, and the twins quickly announced that they had received "all S's," meaning satisfactory grades, on their kindergarten report cards.
Ken Kretchun, program director for CADAprograms, said Antonio was "a very good student."
"We've worked on him with his math," Mr. Kretchun said. "He tries very hard and picks up on stuff very well."
Twins Alessia and Angellea were admitted to the program by exception, Mr. Kretchun said. Normally CADAprograms doesn't admit students until first grade, but the kindergartners receive after-school care because of Ms. Rocco's busy schedule.
"If it's a necessity of a parent going to school," Mr. Kretchun said, CADAprograms is willing to bend the rules.
Citizens to Abolish Domestic Apartheid was founded in 1990, and the after-school program began in 1995. The nonprofit organization debuted a summer program for school-age children in 2002. It is funded by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and contributions from private foundations.
"We foster racial harmony, inclusiveness and diversity," Mr. Kretchun said. "We just want kids to come in here and mix like one big happy family and succeed."
CADAprograms largely serves the area around North Versailles, and the East Allegheny School District, but the summer program includes children from "numerous communities," Mr. Kretchun said, including those from Westmoreland County.
"I think it's nice that there are programs out there to help you," Ms. Rocco said of the after-school program. "It's a lot, and I need help."
Through CADAprograms, Ms. Rocco's children will receive Christmas gifts from the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, which is supported in part by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Goodfellows Fund.
Mr. Kretchun noted that many of the children who benefit from Citizens to Abolish Domestic Apartheid programs come from single-parent households.
"If it wasn't for Toys for Tots, they wouldn't have much below the Christmas tree," he said.
Toys for Tots and Goodfellows work every year to make sure no children wake up on Christmas morning without a gift. We hope you will join this effort by making a tax-deductible contribution to the Goodfellows Fund by using the coupon on this page or online at www.post-gazette.com/goodfellows.
Every donation is acknowledged in the newspaper.
Annie Tubbs: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613.