From GA to L.A.
Television star Nikki DeLoach went from Blackshear, Georgia, to the Hollywood Hills and brought a little bit of her Southern roots with her.
It’s a Wednesday in Los Angeles and Nikki DeLoach is loading her kids William and Bennet into the car for a doctor’s appointment. It’s an almost quintessential mom moment, struggling with a car seat with a cell phone cocked under her ear. It’s also a far cry from her other life as an actress, strutting the red carpet at events ranging from Elton John’s Oscar Party to People StyleWatch’s Annual Denim Party.
Depending on your viewing habits, you either know Nikki DeLoach as the endearingly self-centered Lacey Hamilton on MTV’s “Awkward,” or you know her from the slew of Hallmark movies she’s recently made her specialty, including “Truly, Madly, Sweetly,” “The Perfect Catch,” “A Dream of Christmas” and “Reunited at Christmas.”
It’s a resume that means you’ve most certainly seen her in something. And it’s almost worlds apart from the town of Blackshear, Georgia where she grew up.
“Growing up there, it was this idyllic small town, and by the way it still is,” she said. “It really was such an incredible place to be raised. I feel like in these small towns… I was raised by a community. Whether it was in church or school or sports, this whole community kind of kept their eyes on you and made sure you were taken care of. Everyone kind of came together to raise everyone’s children.”
Landing a modeling contract at a young age following a successful run on the pageant circuit, she left the one-stoplight town of Blackshear for the bright lights of Los Angeles and New York. It eventually landed her on the All-New Mickey Mouse Club, a show that launched the careers of stars like Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears and NSYNC. Fueled by her newfound stardom, she moved to LA with her grandmother full-time in 1994.
“Because I started acting and had been there young, I had been introduced to big cities like New York and LA,” she said. “But when I moved here, I think the biggest shock to the system was the size, the traffic, and it was just looking around and thinking, ‘Where’s the community? Where are the people that genuinely care about you as a human and not for what you can do for them or how much money you can make them?’”
As she built her career, she also began building her community. Inspired by the hometown she left behind and the simple mantra, “If it doesn’t exist, create it,” she began cultivating a community of actors who support one another through the difficult life of being a working actor.
“We’re calling ourselves the New Hollywood,” she said with a laugh. “And it’s made all the difference in the world. I’m just so grateful… That’s something small towns do without thinking. In big cities, if you want that in your world you have to make it yourself. It’s been a gamechanger for me.”
She’s also built a community through her writing, launching a blog with fellow writer Jen Ded called “What We Are.” Billed as a community where women “of all walks of life to share unfiltered stories and experiences on various issues women face today,” What We Are has built a strong following of women who are ready to drop the Instagram filter and revel in their shared experiences.
“There are some really good (stories on the site),” she said. “I love Jamie Lynn Sigler’s piece on asking for help. I think that’s a really big one for women. We’ve been told by society, and we also tell ourselves, we can do anything: go to work, take care of kids; we can do all of it. The truth of the matter is, we can’t. It’s hard. You’re carrying the weight of the world around. And also, you have a full-time job. It’s really difficult.”
That theme of asking for help resonated with DeLoach, who found herself in that position when her son Bennett was born with a heart defect that required open-heart surgery when he was just five days old.
“I’d never had to ask for help in my life. I was one of those women who said, ‘I have this.’ … What I had was strength to move forward, everything else I needed help on.” She also found catharsis in writing about her father’s diagnosis of Pick’s disease, a form of dementia.
“I actually find out about my dad and Bennett about a week apart. The one thing I will say is I’m a huge person of faith. It’s my rock, it’s my foundation. I never could have gotten through what I’ve been through the last two years without my faith,” she said. “And I could have not gotten around it without the people around me. I’m writing an article right now about angels; these are the real-life angels.”
These angels, these communities DeLoach has cultivated around herself, are at heart extensions of the community in which she grew up. One where everyone made sure you were taken care of and who came together in times of need.
It’s this sense of community she remembers when she talks about Blackshear, a place she still returns to as much as possible, to recharge on the family farm where she and her husband Ryan Goodell were married, and where most of her family still lives.
“I just miss being on my family farm. I miss putting my feet in the grass. There’s something in that soil that feeds me… Just being able to be there with my family, that’s what I miss the most,” she said. “I want my kids connected to earth and this specific place in the world that has meant so much to me.”
You can catch Nikki DeLoach as the lead in the upcoming Hallmark movie “Love to the Rescue,” premiered March 23 on Hallmark Channel.
Subscribe now to the print edition for the full article.