BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Lauren Oakes understands adversity.
At just 19, she and her family have persevered through her mom’s substance abuse, too many moves to count across the country and six months of homelessness when they moved to Bridgeport.
But, with a $2,500 scholarship from an innovative program at a local retirement community, she is happily planning for her first semester at Hartwick College this fall and aiming for a career as a neonatal surgeon.
“(College) went from a dream to a reality,” she said, speaking with seniors at The Watermark in Bridgeport this week. “I am realizing my dream.”
Residents of The Watermark at 3030 Park Avenue, one of 41 Watermark communities across the country, helped raise money to support Oakes through Watermark for Kids, a nonprofit that encourages young people to build character, strengthen their leadership skills and express their creativity, compassion and spirit.
Each year, residents hold bake sales, raffles and a miniature golf tournament to help one young person reach his or her goals.
One year they funded a girl’s dream of taking gymnastics classes, said Director Cindy McGuire. Another year, they helped a child go to summer camp for the first time.
Oakes’ first brush with neonatal medicine came as a patient. When she and her twin, Jordan, were born, they were both rushed to a neonatal intensive care unit with dangerous jaundice.
As a child, she loved to play with baby dolls and often volunteered to look after and play with youngsters at local daycares and playgrounds.
“Around middle school, I knew I wanted to work with babies,” she said.
But life has not been easy for Oakes, her dad Jeffrey and her four siblings. The family has had to move frequently, traversing much of the northwest and many southern states.
Along the way, her mom had to leave the family due to her substance abuse, Jeffrey Oakes said.
The family is now living at Crescent Crossings, a new public housing development on the city's East Side.
Through it all, Oakes has maintained a positive spirit and kept her goals in sight, her dad said.
A Shelton High School graduate, she excelled in the sciences and was a track and field standout, winning several medals in javelin, discus and shot put. She has volunteered with children and works with community action groups in Bridgeport to make her neighborhood a better place.
She said she sees college as the first step to attaining her goals.
“She’s getting ready to embark on her dreams,” said her dad.
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