Meet the SeniorHomes Scholarship Winners!

The SeniorHomes.com Student Caregiver Scholarship award provides two university students in the United States with a $1,000 grant for tuition and/or books, based on each applicant’s essay or video story submission. For this first-ever scholarship giveaway, we received more than 100 applications from student caregivers throughout the country. After reviewing all of the applications, our judges deemed the following two students the most worthy of this year’s prize.

 

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Kathryn Eckhardt is a student at Arizona State University. She’s caring for her sister and grandparents while attending school. This is Kathryn’s caregiving story submitted with her scholarship application.

  1. Who is the individual you are caring for, and when did you begin caring for them?

Who I am a caregiver for is very near and dear to my heart. I care for my sister who has spina bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord. When she was developing in the womb, her spinal cord did not develop all the way and therefore her spinal cord did not attach completely. She has no feeling in the lower half of her body and because of this, she is wheelchair-bound. She was born on July 20, 1998. She was instantly a light in all of our lives, as she inspired us while she went through surgery after surgery and continued to be a strong and loving baby.

During the first hour of her life, she had three surgeries. When she grew old enough she showed us just how strong she really is, when with the help of a walker, she walked for the very first time. Doctors had told us she would never be able to walk, talk, or live a normal life, and yet again, she proved them all wrong. I’ve been caregiving for her really for her whole life as I have always felt this very strong need to protect and keep her safe, even though she is very capable of doing things for herself.

When I turned 18, I became her official caregiver. I signed up through an agency and took over all of her needs. I provide respite care, when my parents need it, I clean her bathroom, as well as her bedroom for her. I take her to appointments and help her run errands. She is very excited because she is going to be getting her driver’s license soon and a car that she can use hand controls for. We are very excited for her, as this is another step to her being independent.

However, my sister isn’t the only person I care for. I also care for my grandparents. My grandfather got sick in the summer of 2013, and has had nothing but health problems since then. He’s had two heart attacks, and has been in the hospital a number of times for pain he is having. My grandmother found that she could not do the day-to-day tasks of keeping a house running as well as take care of my grandfather. I then came in and took over some of the things that I can do to help. I go grocery shopping for them weekly, getting the things that they need for the week, making sure that he is eating things that will help his health.

I also sort my grandfather’s pills into daily doses, so that he does not miss a does or forgets to take a pill. I sort his vitamins for him, since with all of the pills he takes he needs them to help restore the things he has lost. I also help my grandmother with errands that she needs to run, as she doesn’t know how to drive and is very dependent upon Grandfather, but when he got sick he was too weak to drive.

I took over the driving, and although he has gotten his strength back, he can only drive short distances. My grandmother loves her yard and the stress of taking care of my grandfather has aged her some as well, so I help her with the yard. Helping her decorate with each holiday, from Christmas to St. Patrick’s Day, my grandmother has something for every holiday. It brings her joy and in that, it gives me joy to see her smile. Helping them is different from helping my sister because they are growing older while my sister is growing as well. Each time I help my grandparents, I value life more and more and realize just how quickly it all goes. Life truly is short.

2. How has caring for these individuals affected your path in life or your career choice?

My role as a caregiver has helped me with my career choice in many ways. For one, I thought I was cut out for the medical field, but as it turns out I am not. It takes a person who is very comfortable with human waste and blood, and I have learned that I am not. Caregiving has shown me the patience I do possess, and the fact that I need to grow some more. I chose teaching because of my love for it.

I saw how my sister struggled through school, and all the amazing teachers that she had and how it pushed her to be better every time. How time and time again they continued to stop and help her when she didn’t understand. How amazing they were to promote that, yes she was different, but that it is something to be valued and not to be made fun of, or looked down upon. I watched as they would go out of their way to make sure that she was doing well. Many of her old teachers showed up to her graduation and it truly touched her and me as well. I want to be like that, and I strive to be like those teachers, to be able to touch lives. I also feel that teaching was what I was meant to do in life.

Another way caregiving has helped me with my career choice is by leading me to the path of studying English. How, you might ask? Well, my sister struggled in school, and one of the things that she struggled with the most is English. She struggles with reading and writing altogether. She didn’t learn to read until she was in the fifth grade. This opened my eyes to how many students struggle with this very thing. Not only that, but there are many students who are coming into this country who do not know English. They are struggling just like my sister, but it’s different.

Arizona, has a law requiring that teachers speak to students only in English, and students for whom English is not the first language are discouraged from speaking their native language in the classroom. This makes it very hard on the students, and teaching them takes compassion, something that caregiving has taught me. It’s taught me that you need to be compassionate toward all kinds of people, because you never know what someone might be going through in their personal lives. Everyone is going through a struggle that none of us know anything about.

  1. How would this scholarship be beneficial for you in your role as a caregiver and student?

This scholarship would help me immensely. My family can help me some, but not as much as they would like to. Therefore I am going through school, funding myself. It is not an easy feat, and this would be another tool that would help me through my journey. I know that there are many other caregivers out there who are more worthy, but I know that I will put the money to good use and it will help me fulfill my dreams of becoming a teacher.

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Arianna Beverly is a student at Arizona State University. She is balancing caring for her brother while attending school. This is Arianna’s caregiving story submitted with her scholarship application.

  1. Who is the individual you are caring for, and when did you begin caring for them?

On November 14, 2010 my brother attempted suicide. It was by far the worst birthday of my entire life. He was found on the side of the road, on the way to high school at the time, and the first responder had no choice but to medivac him to a nearby hospital for emergency brain trauma surgery. On the way to the hospital with my mother and older sister, I realized that we were all in shock. We could not fathom the situation presented to us by the investigators and surgeons at the hospital. When we arrived and the doctors guided us through my brother’s situation, I understood that this was no time to be overcome with emotions, I had to take action; so I was forced to give decisions about the brain surgery on my mother’s behalf.

My brother underwent two major surgeries that night, and during this time the police and hospital psychologist interviewed my mother, sister and I to learn about my brother’s mental health. For the next week, the doctors regularly informed us of my brother’s condition and we were finally allowed to visit him in the Intensive Care Unit. It was then that the surgeon informed my family and I that although my brother would survive, he would be paralyzed on the left side of his body. Unfortunately, when my brother awoke from his coma he was not aware of his paralysis and was quite shocked by his new situation. We explained to him that his entire left side was paralyzed, that he would not be to move anything of his left side, including the left side of his lips, his left arm, his left leg and his sight on his left side was also compromised.

During the next four months, we stayed with him as long as we could whenever we could. We slept at the hospital, ate there, did our homework there and even celebrated my sister’s birthday in my brother’s hospital room. During those tough few months, my mother was able to get time off work, but our financial situation took an even bigger hit than before and I could tell it was more than my mother could handle. After four long and grueling months the doctors gave my mother permission to take my brother home, and I think it was the best birthday present my brother could have received.

After my brother’s release my mother was supposed to go right back to work but my brother couldn’t be home by himself. At the time she was considering quitting her job to care for him 24 hours a day, but I didn’t want her to set back her career. This led me to convince my mother that I could take care of my brother and in order to do this, I would sacrifice my after-school activities, including sports and student council, in order to alternate caring for him. So while I attended school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., my mother would be my brother’s caretaker..She would feed, bathe and change him, and take him to physical therapy appointments.

From late afternoon into the evening, I would make my brother dinner and feed it to him, change him, do a few exercises with him, then put him into bed. I would attend all the doctors’ appointments I could to get information on his condition and insight into the work his doctors did to help with his neurological development. This is what ignited my interest in neuroscience and psychological illnesses. Due to my brother’s traumatic brain injury, I was able to get an in-depth look into the brain and what happens when it’s damaged, which helped me discover what would eventually dominate my interest in college.

  1. How has caring for this individual affected your path in life or your career choice?

I believe this situation changed my career path because I was set on becoming a surgeon and focusing my studies on the path to medical school once I was accepted into college. I thought I wanted to be the person to fix an illness that occurs physically, but after seeing how this situation changed everyone in my family mentally, my mother’s and sister’s depression and my anxiety, including how when my brother’s nerves were damaged it was only his left side that was paralyzed; this was when I discovered that I’d rather be the person to fix the illnesses that take place inside the mind — problems that are commonly ignored.

I began to see from a different point of view. Although my brother was broken physically, his spirit and his mind never wavered. And even though my mother was strong on the outside, I could see her withdraw mentally due to her depression. All of this inspired me to major in Psychology once I was enrolled at Arizona State University, with the goal of helping those with injuries you cannot see.

My brother attempted suicide on my birthday, throughout the last six years I’ve been caring for him and he has given me the strength to pursue my dreams. I am attending college to help other people with mental illnesses and to hopefully prevent a family from feeling the pain my family felt when we received a call from the hospital.

  1. How would this scholarship be beneficial for you in your role as a caregiver and student?

To this day I still have to help him both mentally with his memory and appropriate social interactions, and physically, helping move him from place to place. Although this process has been slow, my family and I are not worried about his recovery, nor are we giving up hope for a full recovery. We can see that he is steadily moving forward towards a full recovery and I will always be at his side to see the progress, no matter how long it takes.

With this scholarship I would be able to schedule fewer shifts at work, which would leave me with more time to help my brother and in return, take a load off my mother’s shoulders. If I were to receive this scholarship my worrying about finances and loans would be lifted, giving me peace of mind and allowing me to focus more during my classes. I would love for the first time in my life to not be worrying about finances while in class and work toward being a better student so I can keep on track with my goal of attending graduate school after finishing my undergraduate studies

A note to readers: The applicants’ words have been lightly edited to provide more clarity and to remove repetitive or unclear phrasing.

 

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