Journal of Housing & Community Development

Student Spotlight: Karen Medina  

April 8, 2022
by Libby Miller

Stability was something Karen Medina craved her entire life. From a young age she moved around a lot, across several southern states before eventually spending an entire year in Mexico. It wasn’t until her family settled in the town of Harlingen, Texas at the Harlingen Housing Authority, that she felt a sense of belonging and peace.  

“The housing authority…it gave me a home,” Medina said. “We were forced to move around a lot because of financial issues, so this place gave me stability. I consider that my home.” 

Medina is one of four, with two older siblings and one younger sibling. Her parents came to the United States from Mexico to better their lives and their children’s lives. Since she was a kid Medina said she’s aspired to do well in school and go to a four-year college.  

“It didn’t matter what I did, I always knew I’d go to college,” Medina said.  

One reason for her passionate ambition is because Medina skipped one year of schooling while her family temporarily relocated back to Mexico when she was 10 years old. The gap in schooling propelled Medina to succeed academically to catch up to her peers.  

Medina graduated top 10 in her class from Harlingen High School. Her dedication and hard work earned her the honor of becoming one of NAHRO’s 2021 Merit and LDG Scholars.  

The NAHRO Merit College Scholarship awards $1,000 each to eight scholars, one from each NAHRO region, who are pursuing their first post-secondary degree. The regions’ scholarship applications are then judged by the NAHRO Scholarship Committee, which is comprised of Housing America Advisory Committee members. 

From these eight scholarship winners, the NAHRO Scholarship Committee chooses three candidates to become a part of the NAHRO-LDG Scholars program, which is a 10-year venture that will provide $1 million in scholarships and internship opportunities to low-income students from around the country and is funded by the award-winning multi-family housing developer, LDG Development. 

“When I first heard the news [that she received the scholarship] I started crying because throughout high school I was worried if I could afford college being from a low-income family and being first-generation American,” Medina said. “This scholarship allowed me to attend college comfortably and make my dreams come true.”  

In the fall of 2021 Medina started attending Texas State University in San Macros pursuing a degree in nursing. She says her interest in becoming a nurse started after she witnessed her mother suffer a stroke. As her mother recovered, Medina found herself studying ways to help.   

“I am really fascinated with healing and helping people,” Medina said. “Nurses and doctors are the real heroes.”  

With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting how educational institutions operate, Medina said her first year of college has been untraditional. She said it’s been a challenge to adjust because she’s now three hours from home and it’s her first time being away from her parents for an extended period. Medina credits the assistance of the NAHRO-Merit and NAHRO-LDG scholarship and the support of extra circular activities with aiding her as she transitions to life as a college student.  

One of Medina’s favorite pasttimes is drawing. Prior to applying for a NAHRO scholarship, Medina eagerly entered the annual What Home Means to Me poster contest.  

“I love to draw and always took art courses in high school,” she said. “When I learned of the contest…I just really liked the theme.”  

Medina would go on to submit three posters for the contest. It wasn’t until 2020 that one of her artworks was chosen as a national winner. Medina’s poster is of a young woman standing by a tree and behind her is a serene landscape with a path, river, and tall green, lush mountains in the distance. At the top she writes ‘Home is where I love and who I love. Family is everything.’ 

“My third poster was depicting a peaceful life and what I thought home was, which is stability,” Medina said. “We had a lot of financial issues so one place I could be stable was with nature.”  

Each year NAHRO holds an annual national poster contest for youth who live in affordable housing owned or administered by NAHRO member agencies. Each piece of art shares the children’s thoughts on the theme of “What Home Means to Me.”  

Hundreds of beautiful posters from children across the nation are entered in local, state and regional competitions. A panel of judges selects 12 winners and one grand prize winner. The winning posters are collected in the Housing America calendar, a year-long reminder of the importance of safe, decent and affordable housing to children and families nationwide. 

Medina said she is hopeful as she starts her second semester at Texas State University. “I’ve opened so many opportunities and it means the world to me to know that I can do it.” 

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Volume 79, Issue 2

March/April 2022

*This article was previously published in Shelterforce Magazine on March 29, 2022. You can view the story here.…