“My birth mom had already placed five children for adoption,” said Addison Mouser of Dallas, Texas. “With me as her sixth, she was considering abortion.”

Addison shared with us about her adoption, health struggles, homelessness, and a life measured by grace and joy. She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by Congress, and her indomitable spirit can give hope to others seeking to overcome the obstacles of a challenging backdrop.

“In the end, my birth mom made the brave choice to carry me,” she said. A few years ago, she was able to visit the pregnancy center where her birth mom made that decision after seeing her on a sonogram.

“What a sweet time I spent with the staff and nurses,” she said. “It was a rare moment to be reunited with a baby the staff had prayed for.”

Her adoptive single mom—Tammy—began homeschooling her in kindergarten. That decision provided Addison critical flexibility as she navigated unexpected health challenges and pursued her passions for dance and volunteer work. (Addison was born with multiple disabilities and has four hearing diagnoses.)

Homeschooling allowed time for Addison’s doctor appointments and therapies, as well as the ability to pursue her passion for ballet. She excelled in her training at the Joffrey Ballet in Texas, then used her platform as a ballerina to raise money for low-income families. She and Tammy also volunteered at homeless shelters and organized food drives.

Addison in a tutu

Addison studied at Joffrey Ballet in Texas

The pandemic followed a year of high medical costs for Addison—she had three surgeries in 2019 and was in the process of getting hearing aids (not covered by insurance). At the same time, their landlord of eight years decided to sell and gave Tammy one month to leave. Since she couldn’t afford the deposits on a new rental, they found themselves homeless and living in their Ford Fusion (with their pets, who were not accepted at any shelter) in the summer of 2019.

Despite these extraordinary circumstances, Addison recalls not feeling scared to face the challenge.

“When we became homeless, we were already homeschooling pros, having juggled all my health issues, surgeries, intense dance schedules, and disabilities,” Addison 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.”

They were able to regroup and move into a one-bedroom apartment, but the period of homelessness left them with outstanding financial needs in 2020—for example, their car had stopped running. Early that year, Tammy received a Curriculum Grant from HSLDA to assist with curriculum and co-op fees. The help from HSLDA allowed her to focus on their other needs.

“We did so much with it,” Tammy said. “HSLDA gave us back some normalcy into our home, and we needed that.”

During the pandemic, Addison realized that children in hospitals had become lonely and isolated. She had spent many of her own days in the hospital due to health struggles, so the thought of children going without playroom visits, therapy dogs, and volunteers helping them learn how to cope prompted her to find creative ways to help.

She made daily Zoom calls to children in the Dallas Children’s Hospital so they could talk and laugh with her and play with toys across the screens. She also choreographed a ballet to Toy Story and streamed it for patients, and she encouraged them to access therapy dogs through Instagram.

Knowing how scary the pandemic was for them, she wrote a digital book, titled You Are a Hero, to let them know that someone understood and to offer strategies to deal with their fears. The book was read on a video feed to all the rooms in the Dallas Children’s Hospital.

After the pandemic, Addison moved on to collecting signatures for her good friend, Opal Lee, in an effort to push for June 19 to become a federally recognized holiday. After President Biden designated Juneteenth in 2021 (with Opal Lee by his side), Addison attended a march in  Washington D.C. celebrating the achievement. She was also awarded the HSLDA Servant Leadership Award that year.

Addison with Opal Lee

Addison with Opal Lee

These events propelled Addison to try for the Congressional Gold Medal, which required her to push the boundaries of her physical and personal stamina. With a required 400 hours of public service, 200 hours of personal development, and 200 hours of physical fitness, she began the long journey into days of demanding focus. Cooking, mentoring, learning sign language, and biking for two hours every day were just some of the milestones she accomplished.

The final step in Addison’s journey to the Congressional Gold Medal was the Expedition: a five-day, four-night trip that must be planned and executed by the participant, and that requires the participant to leave their comfort zone. During their trip, participants must complete six to eight hours per day of immersive activities. This presented a particular challenge to Addison: with a hearing impairment and other physical struggles, her mom frequently acted as her ears and assisted Addison as needed. This wasn’t an option for the Expedition trip.

Addison chose to camp in several Arkansas State Parks, spending each night in various modes of shelter: a tent, a rustic cabin, and a yurt were all part of the adventure. She spent time hiking, exploring caves, scaling a mountain, watching for eagle sightings, and looking for owls at night.

For the first time in her life, she was living on the land, weathering the elements, and even learning how to make a fire and cook over it. Addison’s mom came on the trip, but Addison was completely responsible for their survival. It made living in a car look easy!   

“The real work is after the trip,” Addison laughed. “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!”

She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for Service this year and traveled to D.C. to receive it. The trip left her “in shock and blessed,” she said. (Each Congressional Gold Medal is printed specially for each participant, and there are no two alike in the world.)

Addison with a celebration banner

Addison was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2023

She met with and learned from members of Congress, NASA, the CIA, and others. “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.”

The medal presentation ceremony was a highlight of her experience. “When they say, ‘earned, not given,’ that’s the honest truth,” she said, shaking her head with a smile of happy exasperation.

Reflecting back, Addison is grateful that her homeschooling years offered time to serve, create and learn in ways that met her needs. “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.

She plans to continue her studies at Abilene Christian University this fall, with a goal of becoming a Child Life Specialist, so she can offer children the love and encouragement she received from counselors during her own health journey–something she’s already been doing her entire life.