Scholarships reward teen's effort to beat mean streets

One Medford teen's life has gone from troubled home situation to homeless to being honored with local and state college scholarships.

Dakota Garza, a 17-year-old honor student and senior at North Medford High School, is the first Medford recipient of the national Beat the Odds scholarship from the Stand for Children’s Leadership Center, said Dan Murphy, Community Works president. (Correction: See below.)

The $10,000 award is given to high school seniors "who have overcome tremendous adversity to achieve academic excellence, demonstrate leadership in their communities and aspire to attend college to continue their education," said Murphy.

"We are so proud," said Murphy. "Dakota is one remarkable young woman."

Garza's father died when she was a toddler. Her older siblings left home when she was a small child. And Garza's relationship with her troubled mother was never good.

Garza realized early on if she was going to achieve, it would be because of her own hard work. And, hopefully, with a little help from people she'd meet along the way, Garza said.

"I knew money might be a little bit of a problem," she said.

A year ago Garza and her mother were once again homeless and on the road, headed for somewhere in San Diego. Like all the other times the pair had moved at the mother's insistence, this move didn't work either.

Garza's life changed for the better when she broke free from her mom and a relationship she describes as filled with mental, emotional and sometimes even physical abuse.

"It's still very hard for me," Garza said.

Garza returned to Medford, had herself declared legally emancipated and entered Community Works Transitional Living Program, or TLP.

Today Garza works at a clothing store, lives independently in an apartment partially funded by TLP, and is helping other teens move from homeless to hopeful.

"I'm still in the program," she said. "I'm still a youth leader."

Adults found it astonishing the homeless Medford teen managed to maintain a 3.75 grade point average. But in Garza's world, school was the only place that made sense. She found order amid her mother's chaos by burying herself in her studies and playing soccer.

Garza's story and her scholastic achievements also won her a $6,000 Future First Citizens scholarship from the Medford Chamber of Commerce, she said.

Garza plans to use her money to get a degree that allows her to help others, she said.

"I want to go to the University of Portland," said Garza. "I want to get my bachelor's degree in nursing."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

Correction: The name of the organization awarding the Beat the Odds scholarship was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. This version has been corrected.

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