The 2021 Youth Excellence and Achievement Awards (YEA! Awards) were given to six outstanding students on May 5 at the beginning of the regular Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners meeting. Locally, Valrico resident Jade Stafford, a senior at Armwood High School in Seffner, received the award for Success Despite Difficult Odds.
Stafford was adopted at birth. Her biological brother had already been adopted by the same loving family.
When Stafford was 15 years old, she and her brother discovered their dad had passed away of a heart attack. Stafford was very close with her dad and in coping with his death, her life began to spiral out of control while her mom tried to work to support them.
Stafford dropped out of school during her sophomore year. Then, her mother was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a rare form of terminal brain cancer. Stafford’s mother underwent several surgeries. Eventually, the family became homeless.
In order to keep her mother out of a nursing home during the pandemic, they came to live with Maurya Hinnrichs in Valrico. Her mother’s condition continued to deteriorate.
According to Hinnrichs, “Hospice became a wonderful resource, but the majority of care was provided by Jade while my husband and I worked. Throughout her mom’s battle, Jade blossomed from a freedom-seeking, typically rebellious teenager acting her age to a full-time caregiver. Jade bathed, changed, fed and slept in the room with her mother to watch for signs of distress. When her mom lost the ability to talk, Jade kept her mother engaged, often holding both ends of the conversation as her mom rolled her eyes at the gossip.”
Hinnrichs added, “At a time when she should have been hanging out with friends and enjoying her last year of school festivities, she gave up her senior year to stay home and care for her mom. She took her classes online and maintained straight As. Jade promised her mother that she would go to college. Jade was able to bring her GPA up to 3.5 while she made her first priority making sure her mom was loved, safe and comfortable.”
Stafford was nominated by a close family friend, Sharon Thomas. Hinnrichs said, “Jade was nominated for a YEA! Award because she is the best example of perseverance in the face of multiple tragedies that any of us have ever seen.”
Stafford will attend Hillsborough Community College in the future and plans to attend the University of South Florida and then law school.
Hinnrichs added, “Her mother, Helen, was my best friend of 30 years. The greatest gift Helen and Wendel Stafford left behind was their children and the legacy of love instilled in them. We are so proud of Jade and are thrilled with Jade’s decision to stay on with us while she concentrates on her future. Although Jade still struggles daily with grief, she is determined to make her parents proud and be the person they raised her to be.”
The YEA! Award categories include Success Despite Difficult Odds, Leadership and Volunteer or Community Service.
For more information on the YEA! Awards, please visit www.HCFLGov.net/YEA.