Kick ’em with Kindness Story by: Debbie Hall March 2020
Our youth have always been our future—despite any turmoil, schizophrenic economy, feuds between generations, societal divisions, or political unrest they face as they wake up each day. Humans persevere through the darkest of moments with the youth possessing optimism that they can still change the world. Yes, they can—and they do.
Teens in Las Vegas also embrace social change, whether they have experienced trauma themselves or a cause that arouses passion and commitment. It is now time to shine a light on a special young person in southern Nevada who is making a difference today.
A sharp pencil altered the life of Kyler Nipper, sending him on a path he never expected to walk.
Before his life veered 360 degrees, Kyler lived in Texas with his parents, Sherise and Nick Nipper, and his two older siblings. The first shock in his young life was when his mother was diagnosed with epilepsy. Medicinal cannabis was not legal in Texas, so, while the two older siblings remained there, Kyler’s family moved to Colorado in 2015 to allow Sherise to use medicinal cannabis.
With finances stretched tight, Kyler’s parents could not afford the outrageously priced shoes and other gear for a teenager. But the family thrived while maintaining a loving home, and Kyler attended school with clean clothing and the best his parents could provide.
But, on Oct. 7, 2017, while walking down a school hallway, a classmate stabbed Kyler in his chest with a sharp pencil, puncturing his lung. He was rushed to the hospital and was admitted for three days, facing multiple surgeries.
The attacker said that he stabbed Kyler because his shoes were “not cool enough.” Kyler was just 11 years old at the time. At his young age, Kyler started suffering from PTSD, as well as lingering pain in his chest and feet.
“As part of my healing, I wanted to give away cool shoes. A lot of friends started to donate shoes, and we created a Facebook page,” Kyler explains. “People started to mail us shoes, and then we started to get sponsors. Zappos reached out to us when someone told them about our shoe giveaway and gave us 300 pairs of shoes.” That was only the beginning of his service and long-standing relationship with Zappos, but the family’s hard times were far from over.
The Darkest of days
While recovering from his physical injuries, as well as the emotional and mental trauma, Kyler was prescribed pharmaceuticals by his doctor. “I almost lost my baby within the first 72 hours after he took the prescribed medication,” recalls his mother. “We walked into his room and found him with a belt tied around his neck. We rushed him to the emergency room, and the doctor told us that this is a ‘normal’ side effect of Zoloft for teenage boys. We were told to ‘just watch him’ for the first 90 days.”
Since she was using medicinal cannabis in a state where it was legal, Sherise innocently asked the emergency room doctor about her son using cannabis instead of prescription drugs. The physician told his staff to call the police and child protective services, and report the parents as unfit. The police arrived, pulled out the handcuffs and threatened to arrest Kyler’s parents.
“When the police pulled out their handcuffs on me,” she recalls, “I asked them, ‘Why aren’t you also arresting the doctor? It was the doctor that gave my minor son a pill that caused him to want to kill himself.’”
Sherise and Nick lost custody while Kyler was hospitalized for 72 hours. An emergency custody hearing was held in court after the 72 hours, and Kyler was returned to his parents’ care. The family then fought CPS through the Colorado court system for months before they won the right to give Kyler medicinal cannabis.
“The day we won, we took Kyler down to get his medical cannabis card. Ever since then, it has been night and day with Kyler. Cannabis is the key to Kyler’s healing,” she says. Pharmaceuticals scare Kyler’s parents, and they don’t want any other parent to witness their child trying to kill themselves because of a side effect of prescription drugs.
Before the legal bills, the family had lost everything after Kyler was stabbed. Their personal insurance wouldn’t cover expenses because the stabbing had happened on school property. The school district refused to pay, making the statement that it was the responsibility of the parents and their personal health insurance. While a federal lawsuit has been filed, Kyler’s family still had to pay his medical expenses, financially devastating them.
Creating a movement
After becoming homeless, the family used their savings, $800, to purchase a 1978 RV to drive through the Southwest before settling in Las Vegas, where Zappos is based, and medicinal cannabis is legal.
The Zappos community embraced the family, giving Kyler space to study and a laptop to work on. Believing in Kyler and his family, Zappos then awarded them a check for $15,000 to create a nonprofit organization.
Kyler, still 11 at the time, attended classes held at the US Small Business Administration as the youngest student among adults. He also took nonprofit boot camp and public speaking and other classes throughout the years.
Kyler’s Kicks has become a shoe distributing reality, but because Kyler is a minor, he cannot be president of the nonprofit organization. A third party had to review the papers and bylaws, establishing that, when he turns 18, Kyler can transition smoothly into the role.
A Place for Teens to Go
Trauma invades time even with passing years, and therapy helps with jagged edges. “I knew I needed therapy, but we couldn’t afford it,” admits Kyler. “After doing research, I discovered Nevada places No. 51 (including US Territories) in mental health care. I wanted to open a place and bring that number up to 48.”
What Kyler and his parents learned while looking for a place for the healing space is that there is different zoning for therapy services, education, and social clubs. As a teenager looking for a building to offer both therapy and a social place for teens in one place, that search became daunting.
Anyone who has ever met Kyler and his family understands that obstacles are meant to be overcome with success.
After finding a building, Kyler had to apply for the licenses and was continuously turned down. The family attended multiple meeting at the Small Business Administration and the City of Las Vegas Department of Planning. After numerous meetings, Kyler and his family presented a comprehensive 23-page business plan about the need and how they could benefit from a nonprofit organization. Kyler finally received approval.
But, then the original location fell through, and the search was on again. Kyler and his family found a second building in downtown, only to be turned down due to their credit history—and no credit history with the nonprofit agency. With the help of Zappos and the Never Give Up Behavioral Health Services, Kyler raised $14,950 online to pay one year’s rent and security deposit in advance. The space, now Kyler’s Kicks Lounge, was refurnished with a kitchen and meeting room, plus games, a billiard table, and a TV.
Kyler is the president of Kyler’s Kicks Lounge teen board of directors. The family has partnered with Never Give Up to provide licensed therapists and life coaches.
Now 14 years old, Kyler is home-schooled, in addition to his many nonprofit and lounge responsibilities. His mother works exclusively with Kyler, and his father handles two jobs at the moment. Kyler’s goal when he turns 18 is to create an affordable shoe line with a business model where every pair sold affords another pair to be donated.
Kyler’s Kicks partners with numerous agencies, and Kyler’s Kicks Lounge offers a place for teens attending sixth to 12th grades to go for help, comfort, and fun. Today, the family drives a wrapped car, celebrating Kyler’s Kicks, and is renovating a school bus purchased during an auction for the nonprofit to offer even more services.
“We want every teenager in Las Vegas to know there is a place now open that they can come for a delicious meal, resources (including therapy), and a place to talk,” says Sherise. “You can come to us and tell us how you had a bad day in school, [or that] you want to harm yourself, and we have someone to talk to you. You don’t have to have health insurance, and you don’t need a social security number.”
Kyler smiles and, while being a kid playing video games and hanging with friends, is just getting started on goals with his life. In 14 years, he has accomplished so much, which he says is just the beginning.