NEW ALBANY – Self-taught home rehabber and star of the HGTV show “Rehab Addict,” Nicole Curtis talked to students and community members at Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, last week about what it takes to succeed.

“I never set out for a TV show,” Curtis told the crowd that filled the main floor and extended into the balcony at the Ogle Center. “I just wanted a paycheck.”

As a young single mom, Curtis worked her way through college, almost earning her degree in elementary education. The speaker told the crowd that she earned 87.5% of her education degree.

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Nicole Curtis met with various fans before taking the stage at Indiana University Southeast.

“I realized student teaching didn’t pay,” she explained as to why she changed direction in her career.

Curtis pursued designing, working for free to build her portfolio, and got her real estate license, as she bought and invested in houses. Cleaning houses paid the bills, but that job headed south as the recession took away much of her business.

HGTV found her photo online and wanted her to be the real estate agent on a show, talking about how improvements made on an old bungalow home helped increase the house’s value. She showed up and refused to lie, saying instead that they took away what was great about the home. She told producers how she restored homes and that was the start of what eventually turned into her show, which has been running for 10 years now.

She said what she hopes people hear from her is to not give up.

“Don’t listen to anyone except for yourself. You have to believe in yourself,” Curtis said before the event. “Many people told me no. Many people said, ‘You’re not qualified for this job’ and that was a blessing in disguise. I cried myself to sleep one night, because I didn’t get my dream job. Had I got my dream job, I’d probably still be in an office right now in Minneapolis, Minnesota, designing houses for somebody else.”

She said after success, she wanted to give back and started The Nicole Curtis Foundation, which hosts open houses to collect donations to give to those battling cancer. She told a story of how the foundation raised enough money for a dad and mom to stay home for two years, without needing to work, as they cared for their sick daughter, who passed away from cancer at age 9.

“We’re always racing for a cure, but we should be racing for the cause, because if we knew the cause, we wouldn’t need the cure,” Curtis told the crowd.

The mom of two boys, who are 22 and 4, said she is just like everyone else, trying to balance work and life.

“You never ever balance it all,” Curtis said, talking about flying on the red-eye just to speak at IUS and heading back the following day for playdates in California. “If anyone looks like they’re not struggling, it’s all a show. Everyone has their struggles … I like to speak about those struggles, because then people can understand that they’re not alone.”

Before the event, Curtis shook hands and met with various community members.

“I watch her on TV all the time,” said Susan Troncin. “She’s very friendly. She makes you feel like you’ve known her your whole life and you’ve just met her.”

“She seemed very nice and down to earth, very friendly,” said Ashley McKay, who works at IUS.

After the event, McKay said she heard a lot of lessons that can benefit IUS students, such as changing direction as needed.

“She was good at taking chances and taking risks,” McKay said.

David Eplion, IUS business school dean, said Curtis’ visit was part of the First Savings Bank Business Speaker Series.

“I think it’s seeing someone who took a nontraditional path with her career, but she followed her passion, and in following her passion, she was able to be very successful at that,” Eplion said. “She’s done it without having tremendous resources, certainly in the beginning. She did it pretty much from scratch and still managed to have just a phenomenally successful career.”

Eplion said the speaker series will next feature Ken Jennings, all-time Jeopardy champion, on April 7 at 7 p.m. at the Ogle Center. That event is free and open to the public.

Tara Schmelz is a reporter at the News and Tribune, Jeffersonville.

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