NewAlliance Foundation Nursing Fellowship recipient; majoring in Nursing.
Next Steps: 2024 graduation; working as R.N., perhaps in a drug and alcohol treatment facility; pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
‘Becoming a nurse means I can help people like me.’
For Mary Smith, now 35, college was a “three-times-a-charm” experience. Mary ‘‘came out” at 16, but her family had trouble accepting her sexual orientation. After graduating high school, she entered college, majoring in accounting. She completed three semesters, but began struggling emotionally.
“Alcohol became a problem when I was 18,” says Mary, who later turned to drugs, too. “It was hard to be who I was, when I was.” After one serious binge, she found herself in a psychiatric ward. “I realized I would die If I kept going like this.”
Mary entered a six-week inpatient rehab program in Connecticut, later moving to Florida, where she continued in recovery. There, she enrolled in Palm Beach State College and met her now-wife, Jackie DeCaro-Smith, also in recovery, while they were both working as techs in a treatment center there.
In 2012, she developed bilateral uveitis, which eventually caused near-blindness in her left eye and forced her to drop out of college again. Mary returned to Connecticut and started working at Trader Joe’s. In 2019, she had an “aha” moment. “I realized I was meant to help people like me, people who had reached the end of their rope. That’s when I decided to become a nurse.” With the support of Jackie, now a Wallingford postal worker, Mary started taking courses at Gateway. Of her visual impairment she says, “I have to take things slower.” She is, however, determined, to cross the finish line – graduation in 2024.
Mary is grateful for her wife’s unconditional love and support. “Jackie’s the most understanding person I know. This is a journey we’re on together.” Mary also believes that her challenges, including her continuing recovery and visual impairment, were transformative. “Sobriety is a gift,” she says. “Without that, I wouldn’t have the life – or the future – I have now.”
To watch Mary Smith’s scholarship thank-you video, CLICK HERE.