Published June 07. 2014 4:00AM Updated June 07. 2014 7:21AM
Waterford - Nizida Acharte, like any teen preparing to start college, is looking forward to the freedom that comes with starting life on campus.
For many, that period of freedom represents a stepping stone to the obligations of adulthood. But for Acharte, it in some senses means letting go of certain responsibilities.
Acharte, 18, became a caregiver for her father, who has trouble walking due to a back injury, as she was finishing middle school. During her four years at Waterford High School, she also cared for her grandfather, who had Alzheimer's disease, until his death.
"It was hard for me, because at that point, that's like the age where you're hanging out with friends," she said from her parents' living room one afternoon last month.
This fall, she will attend the University of Connecticut where she plans to study chemistry.
She ultimately hopes to become a dentist, and said she may try to provide care as a community service in Peru, where her family is from.
Kelly Shannon, a counselor at the high school, wrote in a letter of recommendation that Acharte has excelled in advanced and honors courses while participating in the National Honor Society and various sports activities, and completing 115 hours of community service.
Shannon wrote of Acharte's busy home life, "These personal experiences have created a new sense of self for Nizida, one with strong character and motivation."
Acharte's father Boris said last month that he's proud to have a daughter as supportive and conscientious as Acharte.
"She has a good heart," he said, commenting that Acharte will stop doing her homework when she notices that he needs help with something.
"For her, family comes first," said Acharte's mother, Valiuska.
Acharte has spent afternoons and weekends caring for Boris since 2009, when complications following back surgery impaired his ability to walk. He has been unable to work since that time.
She gives Boris his medicine, feeds him snacks and meals, helps him move around the house and aids him in other routine things like going to bed.
The responsibility at first wore on her, affecting her grades freshman year, said Acharte. She said that she eventually started meeting with teachers after school to receive extra help.
"After freshman year, my grades kind of blossomed more," she said.
Sophomore year, she discovered her love of tennis through a friend who played on the high school team. This spring, she played on the school's varsity team.
"It was like my utopia in a way," she said.
She said that during practice, her aunt comes by the house to stay with Boris. Boris said that family members sometimes drive him to practice so that he can watch from the car as his daughter plays.
Acharte said she was a little worried about adjusting to life that doesn't include daily contact with her father.
"It's just going to be a big transition," she said.
She said her father's health issues played a role in her decision to enter the medical field, as did her brother's career in medicine. Her brother, Christian, is beginning his medical residency this summer and plans to work in pain management.
Acharte landed on dentistry as her calling after completing three college preparatory programs at UConn, one of which she said introduced her to a dentistry professor who has become her mentor.
Acharte's college acceptance is not just a point of pride for her, but the culmination of the hopes of her parents, neither of whom have completed university studies. Boris said he completed some college and worked as a police officer in Peru.
Family members said that college educations are of particular importance for Acharte and her brother because of the family's immigrant background.
Boris said it's important for Acharte to stay in school, even if she feels tempted to work to support her family.
Acharte said that her experiences over the past several years make her feel prepared for the fall semester.
"I feel I'm ready for the real world, I guess," she said.