One of the latest recipients of the Congressional Award Gold Medal credits her success to homeschooling.
“I absolutely wouldn’t be where I am today without homeschool,” Addison Mouser, of Dallas, Texas, said in a video shared by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). “What we did in homeschool fit my specific needs.”
The medal is Congress’ highest honor for civilian youth and requires 400 hours of public service, 200 hours of personal development, and 200 hours of physical fitness.
Though Mouser was born with multiple disabilities – including sensory issues and auditory processing disorder – she didn’t let any of them stop her from reaching this milestone.
“The reason why I chose to do the congressional award is because I knew it was going to challenge me to do things without my mom,” she said. “My mom has been my set of ears for years, and it was going to challenge me to basically stand on my own, which was really difficult.”
‘The brave choice to carry me’
Mouser expressed her gratitude to her adoptive single mom, Tammy, who began homeschooling her in kindergarten.
But she also praises her birth mom for choosing life after seeing her then-unborn daughter on a sonogram.
“My birth mom had already placed five children for adoption,” Mouser said. “With me as her sixth, she was considering abortion. … In the end, my birth mom made the brave choice to carry me.”
Because of her multiple health challenges, Mouser credited homeschooling with the flexibility she needed to navigate numerous doctor appointments, therapies and high medical costs.
“It has taught me how to be empathetic, to be a better communicator, a leader, how to follow through, how to value what I have, and to use my voice and story to share with others,” she said.
Mouser also developed a passion in childhood for dancing, fostered by the Joffrey Ballet in Texas.
From homelessness to the Capitol
Community service has factored into the family’s homeschool for years. Mouser and Tammy organized food drives and volunteered at homeless shelters before they became homeless themselves in the summer of 2019.
The family’s landlord of eight years decided to sell that year and gave Tammy one month to leave. Since she couldn’t afford the deposits on a new rental, the two lived in their Ford Fusion for a time.
“When we became homeless, we were already homeschooling pros, having juggled all my health issues, surgeries, intense dance schedules and disabilities,” Mouser said. “My mom would park in front of places where we could get Wi-Fi on our tablet, so I could get online with my courses.”
Eventually they were able to move into a one-bedroom apartment and received a grant from HSLDA in 2020 to help cover homeschool curriculum and co-op fees.
“We did so much with it,” Tammy said of the grant. “HSLDA gave us back some normalcy into our home, and we needed that.”
Mouser received the HSLDA Servant Leadership Award in 2021 after her work to help children’s hospitals severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This experience helped inspire her to try for the Congressional Award, which included a five-day, four-night expedition requiring 6-8 hours each day of immersive activities.
“When they say, ‘Earned, not given,’ that’s the honest truth,” she said of the medal.
Mouser planned her expedition across Arkansas State Parks, choosing different camps each night in accommodations such as a yurt, tent and rustic cabin. She even learned how to start a campfire and cook over it.
“The real work is after the trip,” she said. “My experience had to be written in detail. They want to know everything, including your successes and challenges. My handwritten version was 95 pages, front and back.”
Mouser was “in shock and blessed” after her trip to Washington, D.C. to receive her medal this summer.
“We spent a lot of time in the Capitol,” she said. “They worked hard to immerse us in the D.C. experience and really took the time to get to know us.”
Despite all her accomplishments, Mouser already has big plans for her future. She’s pursuing her studies at Abilene Christian University and hopes to become a child life specialist, to help children experiencing the hardships she grew up with.
“A lot of people need to hear my story for encouragement,” she said, “just to let them know that they’re not alone.”