When Lauren Richards moved to Chicago from Minnesota with her “hersband” and kids in 2014, the mom of four had been working in medical records for years –but she wasn’t feeling fulfilled in her career.
In 2016, she started working as an aid for adults with disabilities and found her true calling – but she also realized she needed a more specific education than the Associate Degree in Health Information Management she had earned at St. Paul College in Minnesota after graduating from Vernon Hills High School.
“I was taking care of peoples’ day-to-day needs, but I knew I could be an advocate for them, too. But without an education, I felt my advice was falling on deaf ears,” she explained.
Afraid she had been out of school too long, she wanted to see “if my brain still worked” and had already taken a Spanish class in 2015 at Kennedy-King College, which was close to her home.
“I have always like learning, but I didn’t have a direction at that point and it took me some time to figure it out,” Lauren explained.
She started taking classes part-time in 2018 because she was working two jobs and raising her kids. Then, she was looking for ways to get some exercise as she recovered from a car accident that left her almost totally immobilized. She stumbled upon a flyer advertising tryouts for the KKC women’s basketball team and thought she would give it a shot. And she made the team. Lauren was now playing basketball with teammates younger than some of her children, but she held her own.
“I wanted to set an example for my kids. I wanted them to see that you can do whatever you want, make life whatever you want to make it – you just have to show up,” said Lauren.
To play on the team, she needed to be a full-time student, so she juggled more classes, two jobs, raising her kids, and basketball practice. She was getting some game time, but only a few minutes at a time. Then, one of her teammates got injured and she was up.
“It was time to step up, and unless I did, then no one would get to play. We never had to forfeit a game,” she said.
After a few incredibly busy years, Lauren is not only graduating with her Associate in Arts this May, but she is valedictorian of her class at Kennedy-King College. Her plan is to transfer to a four-year college in the fall to study social work, then start a career as a human rights investigator.
Lauren says, “you never know where life will take you.” And she is definitely proof of that.