DUNLAP — Life hasn’t been easy for Alexa Porter.
The 18-year-old Concord High School senior has endured everything from being abandoned at her grandmother’s house, to drug abuse in her home, to living in cheap motels, to staying in a tent one summer at a local campground.
But through it all, Porter has risen up to become a Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship recipient, which provides a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to the accredited public or private college or university in Indiana of their choice.
Yes, Alexa Porter is going to college for free.
“Honestly, winning the scholarship ... is unimaginable,’’ Porter admitted. “It’s really not something I would ever dream of. It’s such an honor and a pleasure to win. I’m not sure I can appreciate it yet or how much it will change my life.’’
Porter is one of three students in Elkhart County to received the scholarship, joining Lisa Hochstetler of Northridge and Clair Mumaw of Fairfield. The scholarship includes up to $900 a year for required books and equipment to any accredited public or private nonprofit college or university in Indiana.
Each of the eligible high schools in Elkhart County selects one nominee based on academic performance (including grades and course load), extra-curricular and civic involvement, work experience, career goals, unusual circumstances, interview and an essay.
It’s said everyone has a story, but Porter’s could easily pass for the best fiction from Grisham or Brown or Rowling.
But it’s all true.
Born in Maryland, Porter spent the first seven years of her life living with her parents before they split up. Her mother would drop Alexa and her two siblings at their grandma’s house and said she would come back for them later.
But she didn’t.
So Porter, her sister and brother would live with their grandmother at her home, while her mother and a boyfriend joined them later. It was when they had to move from there that the litany of moves began.
“I remember living in a house in West Virginia and the conditions were just brutal,’’ Porter said. “My mom’s boyfriend was doing drugs ... and there was no running water or electricity in the house. We would actually have to go to a neighbor’s house for those things.’’
The siblings and their mother would eventually be evicted for not paying rent and would move to and from several cheap motels and small homes, before they were contacted by an aunt in Indiana, who offered a place to stay.
“There were over 10 of us in a three-bedroom trailer,’’ Alexa remembered. “It wasn’t great, but it was liveable. Then we were forced to move out because there were just too many people living there at once.’’
Porter, her mother and her siblings lived at a house on C.R. 17 for a short while, but then found themselves homeless prior to Alexa’s eighth-grade year in the Concord system, as the family lived in a tent for an entire summer.
But as she was living this life, Alexa Porter was also putting down roots.
“I just loved it at Concord, and the teachers and students and really everyone was just so nice to me,’’ Porter admitted. “I felt that I had found something great and I wanted to stay here.’’
Porter also became an athlete at Concord, picking up basketball in the eighth grade, while also running cross country and track. She earned four letters in cross country and qualified for the semistate last fall.
“I love to run ... it’s a real stress relief for me,’’ Porter admitted.
Growing to 5-foot-10, Porter became a key member of the Concord basketball program, as head coach Cassie Cepeda has rebuilt the Minutemen’s program to a strong contender for a Class 4A sectional title, after Concord won just three games in Porter’s freshman season.
Prior to the Class 4A sectional last February, Porter’s mother was again ready to uproot her family.
That’s when a conversation with CHS assistant coach Teri Read changed Alexa’s life forever.
“My mom wanted to move back to West Virginia with her boyfriend,’’ Porter explained. “So before our game with Warsaw, coach Read and I sat down and talked about a lot of things, including about how I wanted to stay at Concord for my senior year. I had friends here, basketball and cross country, and I felt at home. I didn’t want to lose that.’’
“Alexa found out about the possible move right before sectionals and I told her to just worry about the game and we’d talk after,’’ Read explained. “Everyone knows what kind of kid she is and so I talked to my husband (Jim) and said, ‘I need you to be behind this 100 percent if you’re OK with it.’ He had seen her play and through talking with me, he knew what kind of young lady Alexa is. So it was an instant yes.’’
Following the sectional, Teri Read had a solution.
“Teri talked to her husband and offered me a place to stay,’’ Porter said. “They already have two younger kids, but they wanted to help me get through everything and stay here for my senior year. Honestly, they’ve become my family now.’’
Teri and Jim Read moved Alexa into a bedroom and put their two kids – ages 5 and 7 – into bunkbeds in another bedroom.
The Read’s also have taken another step, one that will make Porter’s life much more stable.
“They want to adopt me,’’ Porter said with emotion in her voice.
The Read’s are working with the Lilly Foundation, as well as their insurance company, to make it official.
“We’re just making sure we cover all our bases so we can make it official,’’ Teri Read said. “Making sure everything is done correctly with the Lilly people is very important ... that’s not something we want to mess up.’’
Through all she’s been through, Porter had one more disappointment, this coming on Dec. 20 in a game against New Prairie when she tore the ACL in her knee.
“There were two of us chasing a ball from one end of the court to the other,’’ Porter recalled. “The girl fell in front of me and I jumped over her, but as soon as I landed, I heard the pop and I knew ... ‘‘
But the injury has helped reinforce what Porter has meant to her team and the Concord community.
“My team and coaches have just been so supportive since the injury,’’ Porter said. “They’ve brought pizza over so we could just hang out and during games, they still respect me as a captain. They’ll come over to where I’m sitting and talk about situations in the game. They’ve done everything they can to keep me involved with our team.’’
Porter also discussed the role faith has played in her journey, even though getting to church wasn’t easy earlier in her life.
“I believed in God then, just like I do now,’’ Porter said. “I believe God has a purpose for everyone and he wouldn’t put you in any situations that he knew you couldn’t handle. I trusted him through everything and had faith through it all that I could get through it. Now I do to church with my family as much as I can.’’
But the question that begs to be answered is, how has Alexa Porter, with everything she’s been through, somehow recorded a 4.022 grade point average at Concord and earn a Lilly Scholarship?
“I’m a really driven person and I really work hard at things,’’ Porter said. “I think hard work is an important thing in anything you do, from academics to athletics, to just life.’’
Porter decided on Thursday to attend Trine University beginning next fall, where she also plans on playing basketball after the rehab is done on her injured knee. She plans to major in education, although she has also considered social work and physical therapy.
And after what she’s been through, no one should ever doubt Alexa Porter’s future.