A simple but profound statement by Kelly Rouba ’02 embodies her character and defines her success. She explained that her wheelchair is just a tool that she uses to get around. That is the only difference that separates her from the rest … how she gets from point A to point B.
That type of outlook is what allows a woman with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis to achieve more by age 27 than most hope to accomplish in a lifetime. Her sheer determination and will were recognized by the Ms. Wheelchair Board of Directors, which selected Kelly as Ms. Wheelchair New Jersey 2007. The mission of the Ms. Wheelchair America Program Inc. is to provide an opportunity for women of achievement who utilize wheelchairs to successfully educate and advocate for individuals with disabilities.
“The competition was pretty extensive, but the experience itself was a lot of fun, ” Kelly said. “I met 26 of the best women around. I thought I was in a good place before I went to the pageant, but listening to a group of remarkable women and sharing our experiences, I made some great friends for life.”
Throughout this past year, Kelly has visited area schools and centers to promote positive change in terms of how individuals with disabilities are viewed in society. Her primary focus is on creating awareness among children. That is where, as she explains, the stereotypes begin. Educating young students can pave the way for a more inclusive society for those with disabilities.
“My best experience was when I visited a juvenile detention center,” Kelly recalled. “I shared my story of facing obstacles and looking for ways to overcome them rather than feeling sorry for myself. Many of those kids had situations that were different from mine, but we all have obstacles. To overcome them requires the right attitude. It was something they could relate to, and many of them came up and hugged me. They told me that I had inspired them. That was the best feeling in the world. ”
Her crowning was yet another decoration in a long list of achievements. An accomplished writer, Kelly contributes to eight local and national magazines. She also writes for www.mobilewomen.org, www.thisabled.com, and has contributed to Able newspaper. In addition to her volunteer work with several community organizations, Kelly is authoring a book for Scarecrow Press on juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She was recently honored by the State of New Jersey Department of Labor for her outstanding work ethic and success in the workplace as a local journalist and disabled woman.
“My parents taught me to be involved in group activities and participate in the community, ” said Kelly, who has been offered a newly created position as a special needs specialist with the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA Region II. “In doing so, I’ve been presented with so many opportunities. It’s been very exciting.”