From lows to highs: An Airman’s fight to transform Colorado

Senior Airman Nicholas Cavanaugh, 544th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group command support staff specialist, speaks to the Junior Enlisted Association about suicide prevention at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., July 7, 2016. After a low point and because he reached out for help, Cavanaugh credits his mentor with saving his life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

Senior Airman Nicholas Cavanaugh, 544th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group command support staff specialist, speaks to the Junior Enlisted Association about suicide prevention at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., July 7, 2016. After a low point and because he reached out for help, Cavanaugh credits his mentor with saving his life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- There was no light and no tunnel, just the darkness that clouded Nick’s every thought. All of his energy had slowly washed away from years of misfortune. He had hit rock bottom.

“Why isn’t anything changing,” he thought to himself sitting alone in his car, contemplating dangerous thoughts.

With one last hopeful call, Nick reached out to a mentor.

“Instead of just talking about what I should do to fix my life — he listened to me,” he said. “It was so empowering.”

Nick had been listening to advice from anyone and everyone for so long that he felt like his words were shrouded by ambiguous advice.

Like a phoenix rising from its own ashes, Senior Airman Nicholas Cavanaugh, 544th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group command support staff specialist, was empowered by such a simple gesture that he would go on to create change in his local community be creating an organization dedicated to helping victims of sex trafficking.

Everything began after a series of unfortunate events kept interrupting the normalcy of Cavanaugh’s life. With a hurdle in his education, the passing of his unborn child and the loss of his possessions in a house fire, it was as if someone kept knocking him down after he gained enough footing to be able to stand up again, said Cavanaugh.

“It was a span of six months of my life where everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong,” said Cavanaugh. “I didn’t feel like I had anyone there and I was really at a loss for myself and my life.”

Cavanaugh gathered himself just enough to reach out to a mentor he became close with and with zero hesitation, his mentor met him at a local restaurant. After confiding in his mentor for more than three hours, Cavanaugh said the shroud of darkness that once clouded his mind lifted and he began to see hope for himself and his future.

“That was the first time I ever experienced someone truly caring and really being there for me,” said Cavanaugh. “At my lowest point in my life, he was there when I needed someone to just listen – he saved my life. That started the slow progression of me wanting to make my life and others’ lives better.”

From there, Cavanaugh opened himself up and sought opportunities that would help propel this idea of betterment.

“I took a course centered on creating transformation out in the world,” said Cavanaugh. “It made you look outside yourself and actually taking action consistent with what you want to see in the world. That is what really inspired me to do something for people.”

Cavanaugh took this revitalized-emerging momentum, put his thoughts into action and created an organization with a focus on helping others in their times of need, said Cavanaugh. He called this organization, Transforming Colorado.

Transforming Colorado, in its beginning phase, used manpower and resources to raise funds for individuals who found themselves falling on hard times, said Cavanaugh. These gestures ranged from providing a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal to 30 families to purchasing a vehicle for a family to make it to and from work safely.

Though Transforming Colorado was effectively helping others, Cavanaugh still believed the organization’s direction needed a stronger focus. Following a worship service, Cavanaugh became aware of a certain demographic that he felt compelled to help and also felt was a good road for his organization to travel down.

“I heard that Denver was the second largest city in the United States for sex trafficking,” said Cavanaugh. “I was completely blown away by this issue. I had never heard of it, never knew it existed and thought this was an issue only in third-world countries. I felt called in that I needed to do something about it.”

Cavanaugh listened to the stories of adults and children who experienced the harsh realities of sex-trafficking and quickly thought of his own experiences of feeling powerless and without any hope. In a way, Cavanaugh said he knew that by helping these human beings that he was helping part of himself.

While still gaining steam, Cavanaugh’s organization is still in development stages. They are working hard to maintain vigor and grow the organization with resources and volunteers ready to help those affected by sex trafficking.

“The reason I joined the military was to make a difference,” said Cavanaugh. “In my life I try to accomplish that in every aspect. I really want my life to be about what I believe in, and that is to defend and uphold the freedoms that everybody deserves.”

To date, Transforming Colorado has partnered funds and resources with organizations to better the lives of more than 20 individuals affected by sex trafficking.