Valencia Mercurio and Karen Thacker: Healing together

A story of love and hope

 By Meg Boedeker

Valencia Mercurio is much like everyone at Lincoln High–she has a packed schedule, has a house full of animals, and loves her grandmother. She also has big hopes and dreams for the future.

“I definitely want to graduate this year with good grades and go to Southeast Community College,” Mercurio said. “I eventually want to become a veterinarian because I’ve loved animals ever since I was younger, and I feel that I have a special connection to them.”

Mercurio lives with her grandmother, Karen Thacker, who works in the attendance office at Lincoln High School, and her four cats and two dogs whom she loves dearly.

“I baby [my pets],” Mercurio said. “The four cats are named Jackson, Lincoln, Franklin, and George–they’re all presidents’ names. The dogs are named Monroe and Wilson. Sophomore year, I got my cat, Lincoln. Since I was starting the near year here, I named him Linc. My grandma suggested naming the cat after President Lincoln, and we’ve just continued to name the animals after presidents since then.”

Valencia Mercurio (12) and Attendance Office Secretary KarenThacker pose together in front of the beach. Photo courtesy of Valencia Mercurio.

Although Mercurio’s future is very bright, she has fought some hard battles within her family in the past which have had a big impact on her current life. She lived with her mom for a few years, but eventually moved in with her grandmother to a much safer and supportive space.

“I went from the Grandma role to the parent role, trying to continue to spoil her and make up for things she has missed out on, but also now I had to help mend,” Karen Thacker said. “It took tons of talking, tons of cuddles, tons of tears and hard work. We both had to be brutally honest with each other and I had to look past the poor choices that had been made and forgive and move forward.”

Mercurio also recognizes that this change in scenery was beneficial to both of them.

“Before I lived with [my grandmother], we were still close, but I wasn’t as open with her then as I am now,” Mercurio said.

Valencia’s mother wasn’t always available when she needed to talk to someone about her feelings. She and her grandmother began to form a bond strong enough they could share almost everything.

“When it got too much to handle, I finally opened up to my grandmother, and still tell her everything ever since,” Mercurio said.

Mercurio’s grandmother has made a lasting impact on her life, allowing her true self and personality to flourish in an environment where it may not have been able to before.

Valencia Mercurio (12) stands next to her grandmother Attendance Office Secretary Karen Thacker after finishing a race. Photo courtesy of Valencia Mercurio.

“She’s helped me become a better person and build up my confidence. She’s helped me with school and get into hobbies like martial arts, and I couldn’t be any more grateful for the impact she’s had on my life,” Mercurio said.

Thacker recognizes that both she and Mercurio have persevered through struggles within their life, and they have been able to bond over their mutual respect for one another. The strength they both have shown proves that even when things seem to be at their worst, there is still a way to endure and surmount life’s difficulties.

“It has been very hard for our family, but it has been extremely rewarding and a huge eye opener,” Thacker said. “I have been through a lot in my life but this was different–it was a make or break situation. Helping Valencia helped my heart start to heal with things that have happened throughout my entire life and I saw things in a different view.”

Before Mercurio started living with her grandmother, she attended Northeast High School for her freshman year and part of her sophomore year, but it was a little rocky.

“I was still living with my mom my sophomore year [of Lincoln High School] and my home situation wasn’t improving,” Mercurio said. “That’s when my grandmother took me in and I began the rest of my sophomore year at Lincoln High.”

Mercurio adores attending Lincoln High and applauds its diversity and openness that is unmatched in other schools around the Lincoln area. Mercurio has learned more from her few years at Lincoln High than from any other school she has attended.

“I have definitely learned a lot from people I’ve met [at Lincoln High] from staff and other students–it helped me become a bigger person and learn who I can trust and go to when I need to talk to someone,” Mercurio said. “I love that everyone has a story, and no one is truly exactly the same or perfect. There’s connections that can be made with basically anyone within these walls.”

Valencia Mercurio (12) and her grandmother Attendance Office Secretary KarenThacker pose for a picture in their kitchen while making s’mores over the stove. Photo courtesy of Valencia Mercurio.

Lincoln High School holds many stories of hope, loss, tragedy, and success within its century-old walls. The High is a school where skills are honed, relationships are built, stories are shared, and last but not least, is a place where everyone is a loved “link” in the fast-growing chain of Lincoln High.

“One of the many hardest parts of the journey was having to be humble and let the people around [Mercurio and I] know exactly where we stood: I needed help, Valencia needed help; we were both broken,” Thacker said. “One person told me it takes a village, and I learned that the village was right here. The support, help, love and encouragement we both received was amazing. The struggle was and is still real, but so worth it. We have both grown and are excited to see what the next chapter brings.”