Return to #CaringScholar Stories Student-Caregiver Scholarship Story: Samantha Vega

A #CaringScholar of Fall 2015

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The Student Caregiver Scholarship award provides three (3) university students in the United States with a $1,500 #CaringScholar grant for tuition and/or books, based on each applicant's compelling 1,500-word essay or two-minute video story submission.

Samantha Vega is a student at Whittier College near Los Angeles who is majoring in political science and caring for her grandmother Corrine, who suffers from advanced kidney disease, among other illnesses. Samantha was among more than 1,400 student-caregivers who applied for the #CaringScholar grants in the fall of 2015, and was chosen by a panel of senior care expert judges as one of just three recipients. This is Samantha's caregiving story submitted with her scholarship application.

Who are you caring for and how are you involved as a caregiver?

I currently care for my 72-year-old grandmother Corrine Morales. Corrine has survived cancer 5 times, each time more deadly than the next; a brain tumor when I was four, colon cancer when I was six and then again when I was 11, and breast cancer when I was 13 and again when I was 15, along with a sextuple bypass heart surgery when I was 17. However, long before I was taking care of her, my grandmother was caring for me, more than that -- she was saving my life. I endured physical and emotional abuse at the hands of my mother and stepfather from the ages of four to 11. When, at the age of 11, I called the police to save me from my own "parents" she decided enough was enough and she took me in, taking over every parenting role from then on.

It was when I turned 13 and she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time that I really understood the meaning of “caring”. It has been a very long eight years of doctor’s appointments, emergency room visits, cooking and cleaning without a mother’s example to look upon. Currently, I attend Whittier College and my grandmother lives in a one-bedroom house not 100 yards away from campus. The plan was for me to have some independence while still being an arms length away. Those plans changed when my grandmother was diagnosed with stage four-kidney failure earlier this year.

Next semester I will be moving back into the tiny house on Penn Street to take over for her once again. This means driving her to several doctors’ appointments a week and monitoring her blood sugar and insulin in-take, as she is a diabetic. Along with that, my grandmother has a myriad of medications she must take regularly ranging from high blood pressure medication to very strong pain medication for her other illnesses. I am also in charge of our finances and making sure all our bills are paid on time, or as close as possible.

I work a part-time job at a non-profit in South Pasadena as a way to contribute, as our only income is my grandmother’s retirement and social security checks. My grandmother has made me her medical and legal power of attorney should anything happen to her that leaves her without the ability to make decisions. While she still can, she orders me around the house, the market, the doctor’s office etc. I am perfectly content with following orders as so many years ago she went above and beyond the call of duty raising her granddaughter. I am very fortunate to be able to now return the favor.

How has your role as a caregiver influenced the decision for your major/career path?

Due to my grandmother’s undependable health we have been through very tough times financially. Many months our meals came from food bank donations we were eligible for and our car ran on fumes. I know we are not the only family that was forced to live this way due to deteriorating health of the head of household; I know I am not the only child caring for their “parent”.

I decided I want to go into politics because I want to influence the creation of policy to assist caretakers like myself and assist those they care for. Caring for my grandmother meant that throughout my elementary and High School careers I didn’t always have a “guardian signature” available and there were no resources available to students in my situation. This extended even more so into my college career when the FAFSA and reporting a “Parent's” income was challenging. While the FAFSA saw a girl with a mother who made $90,000.00 a year, they didn’t see the young woman and her grandmother trying to scrape by on less than $24,000.00, most of which went to pay my grandmother’s medical bills and medications. There is no way to make these struggles known on the FAFSA, which is a cookie cutter form for students that have troubles in all shapes and sizes.

Moving forward, I hope to move my career towards a position in local government. A role on the Whittier city school board for example, would open up avenues for me to create positive changes to these systems through policy and would thus help students in situations similar to my own.

How would this scholarship be helpful to you in your current student-caregiving role?

What I see when looking at this scholarship is some peace of mind for my grandmother. Corrine Morales never wanted me to miss out on the opportunity to be just like every other child on the block. Unfortunately, growing up at an exponential rate comes with the territory of being a young caregiver. Knowing that the experience of caring for her and providing for us had a positive impact in my life is the best gift she could ever receive. I have had to give up many opportunities in order to make sure she is cared for. I am hardly able to participate in on-campus events, and living on campus just isn’t a feasible option for us.

However, my grandmother will never hear me complain because as she says, “I am her life”, her life and her persistence to survive will mean nothing to her if it stands in the way of my success. This $1,500.00 would be enough to pay for my textbooks for the rest of my time at Whittier College. As a result, I would be able to spend a little less time working during the school year and spend more time on my schoolwork and even get more quality time with my grandmother. My past, while difficult, led me to caring for my grandmother. I am dedicating my future to helping others in positions similar to my own. Presently, this scholarship would allow me to focus on the importance of my schoolwork and my grandmother's health without having to sacrifice the quality of my work in either of those areas.

Please post a supportive comment for Samantha below, share this story to inspire others who caring for a loved one while attending college, and/or learn more about our #CaringScholar program.

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