By Dianne L. Anderson
I am a dreamer, activist and daughter”, said Chelsea Miller, “and first and foremost, someone who wants to make a difference.” Chelsea Miller has been and continues to make a difference despite significant obstacles in her life.
One of this year’s recipients of a Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break scholarship, Chelsea is currently a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder where she is an international affairs major, and Jewish studies minor, focusing on social justice in Africa and the Middle East. She is also studying French, is working on a certificate in digital arts and media and works on campus at the CU recreation center as a Student Coordinator to pay her way through college.
In keeping with her stated desire to “save the world”, Chelsea is heavily involved in volunteer work and campus activities. Chelsea has delivered meals to low income families in Denver since 2006 through Epworth Church, volunteers with the Aids Quilt through Queer Initiative, is an activist with the LGBT community and is the Co-President of Hillel on campus. Among other activities, Chelsea volunteers with Jewish Colorado and an on-campus program called L’Dor V’Dor, where she delivers meals weekly to the elderly Boulder, Jewish community. She is also currently running for the Representative at Large position for the University of Colorado Student Government.
Chelsea has been able to accomplish all of this despite overwhelming hurdles thrown her way. Growing up with an absent and unknown father was not the only hardship that Chelsea has had to face in her life.
Chelsea’s mother is recovering from a potentially deadly disease. Chelsea has been her “support system” and “caretaker”, there with her through attempted suicides, mental hospital visits, and rehabilitation centers. “My mother is my hero, and she has pushed me to be the fighter I am today….While my mother is fighting to live, I fight to make her proud…. I’d like to think that I’m her example to live”, said Chelsea.
Chelsea has continued to be that example by making a difference on her Alternative Spring Break trip to Atlanta this year, funded by the Casey Feldman Foundation. Chelsea’s trip found her working with two non-profits, the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) and Cool Girls.
The AHRC provides education and risk reduction programs to empower adults in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of substance use, HIV/AIDS, STDs, hepatitis, and other communicable diseases. Cool Girls supports girls in all aspects of their development – breaking the cycles of poverty, low self-esteem, and teen pregnancy, helping girls develop into confident women through education and exposure to a broader world of opportunity.
With Atlanta Harm Reduction, Chelsea volunteered in a community referred to as “The Bluff”. Within this neighborhood Chelsea and her fellow student volunteers collected dirty, used heroin needles on several tours of the community. When stationed at the Harm Reduction House, Chelsea assisted with daily duties of the organization, like making coffee for the community members, organizing paperwork, compiling condoms and other preventatives (like dental dams and female condoms) and other basic needs of the organization.
Chelsea had the opportunity to meet and speak with community members during all of her shifts and described the work as “quite fulfilling”. According to Chelsea,
The most rewarding moment for me was when I met a man that had never used a computer before. Because of this, he didn’t have a resume and could not apply to jobs online. I showed him how to use a computer, browsers, and Microsoft Word. Then, I helped him develop a resume and set up an email account. After, we spent hours on Craigslist.com scoping out and applying for jobs. He was so thankful, because he had been unemployed and homeless for years. Without these basic skills, he couldn’t assimilate into society like he wanted to. I felt very accomplished showing him basic skills that would impact the rest of his life.
Chelsea described the young people at Cool Girls as “really inspiring”. Through lessons and games that her group planned themselves, focused on math, engineering, science and technology, they talked, played, and learned together. One of the activities involved having the girls create their own scientific invention. After the groups made their inventions, with a detailed business plan, they presented their ideas to the rest of the groups.
Given the adversity faced in her own life, Chelsea stated that her week of volunteering didn’t teach her about society’s woes like poverty, drug addiction or marginalized communities. “No, this trip instead reminded me of such matters”, stated Chelsea. “This experience was a beautiful awakening; to remind me of where I came from and, now, where I’m going in life….I will continue to serve, and I will continue to have faith in people as long as they continue to have faith in me.”
Could this young woman have experienced any greater accomplishments during her Alternative Spring Break week of volunteering? Being the bold and courageous person that she is, Chelsea chose to look up her long lost father whom she was told lived in Atlanta and whom she had never met. Her tenacity proved successful and Chelsea located her father and met him in Atlanta. “I had honestly not even thought about the prospect of meeting a parent during my spring break”, said Chelsea. “This experience was powerful. I reconnected with who I really am and who, in the end, I really want to be.”
Contribute to the Casey Feldman Foundation so that more students may experience the rewards of an Alternative Spring Break.
- University of Colorado Boulder Volunteer Resource Center (Plans and organizes Alternative Spring Break trips for students at CU)
-Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC)
- Helping our children experience the gift of helping others, article in the Fall CU Parent Newsletter by Casey Feldman’s parents, Joel Feldman and Dianne Anderson in which they discuss the establishment of the Alternative Spring Break scholarships in Casey’s memory
– Casey Feldman Inspiration video , produced by CU Boulder broadcast journalism student Kylie Bearse and which aired on CU Boulder TV News, concerning the Alternative Spring Break program and the scholarships established in Casey’s memory
- Previous articles on the Casey Feldman Foundation News and Updates about the Alternative Spring Break Program and the many scholarship recipients who have benefited