About Chanelle

Since I can remember I have always had a passion to serve and care for others. In 2006, I had the opportunity to intern at an HIV/AIDS clinic named FIGHT Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA. After this six month internship, my interest and dedication to HIV/AIDS work was evident. With much interest in partaking in HIV/AIDS work in Africa, I successfully completed the Peace Corps application process. However, I decided that I wanted to become a part of an Americorps project, serving in the United States before undertaking work in non-U.S. countries. This was the beginning of the work I currently do.

Born in North Tarrytown, New York, I was raised in Mashpee, Massachusetts, located on Cape Cod, with my younger sister and brother; both extremely important to me along with my family. There I attended Mashpee High School in Mashpee, Massachusetts. Growing up near the water, I started swimming before I could walk and began swimming competitively with the Cape Cod Swim Club at the age of 11. Throughout high school I was involved in track and field, the National Honor Society, volunteering as a tutor and with Habitat and Humanity, chorus and playing the alto saxophone in the jazz ensemble.

After graduating high school in 2002, I matriculated at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania as a Biology major and Music minor. During these four years I maintained a busy schedule consisting of four years of division III swimming, two of which I served as co-captain, presenting research work in Los Angeles, CA and Washington, DC, as a Biology summer research fellow, working as the assistant to the college chaplain for three years, and being an active member of the gospel choir where I served as treasurer for one year.

The summer after graduation in 2006 consisted of partaking in an Urban Service Internship at the I Read Every Day Camp in a poor, low income section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, known as Kensington. These six weeks were full of emotionally demanding and eye-opening work with low-income families, attempting to overcome poverty and language barriers. The focus here was improving literacy for children ages 5-12 in order to decrease the percentage of children being left behind in the Philadelphia school system due to the lack of literacy. I did return the following summer as the Assistant Camp Director.

In March of 2007, I had the opportunity to travel to Santiago, Chile in order to continue research from my under-graduate years. Working with a professor from Ursinus, we preformed some basic research for Alzheimer’s disease using the nematode C. elegans. Also while I was there I looked after my professor’s son, who has Autism, which led me to continue work with Autistic children upon my return to the states. These three months were full of exploration and challenges of living in a foreign country.

Upon my return from Chile, I was appointed director of Junior Counselors/Assistant Camp Director at the same camp I interned at the prior summer in Philadelphia. After the completion of a successful summer and with my passion to serve and give back, I was looking forward to continued work in serving an under-privileged community with the National AIDS Fund Americorps Program in Washington DC. During this service year, my placement at The Women’s Collective, an agency for women and families infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, proved to be both rewarding and challenging. Every day I looked forward to coming into The Women’s Collective to serve black women that are disproportionately infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in the District of Columbia. In-house, I performed HIV testing and counseling sessions, along with tutoring HIV positive women in order to obtain their GED. When not in the office, I offered HIV testing and counseling sessions on the mobile unit and conducted outreach & HIV education in targeted communities of DC. While in the neighborhoods we serve, I was often reminded that we live in a diverse world and that everyone has their own obstacles and challenges to overcome. This service year was the utmost humbling experience I have ever had and certain aspects of this service year have helped me through the new challenges that I now face day to day since my life changing incident.

In August 2009, at the age of 25, that  life changing incident I experienced was being hit and run over by a car while vacationing in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I sustained critical injuries, including a spinal cord injury (SCI), paralyzing me from the chest down. After an 8 -10 hour surgery to piece me back together the grim news from the doctors that I would never walk again was equally as painful as the physical pain I was enduring. From August 7 -October 17, 2009 I progressed through the Intensive Care Unit (4 weeks), Progressive Ventilation Step-down Unit (4 days), and Inpatient Rehabilitation (6 weeks) at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. I was then discharged and began outpatient therapy at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C., in the Spinal Cord Injury Day Treatment Program from October 26, 2009-January 29, 2010. I completed outpatient physical therapy two years later in 2012. In that time I worked on strengthening my right leg (which is significantly weaker than the left) and learning how to walk again. Learning how to walk again was an arduous task to say the least, but I can now walk with braces and a rolling walker, slowly and for short periods of time. For this I am extremely grateful considering the doctors told me that I would never walk again. Life is a journey and this challenge placed before me is like none other and definitely puts those words to true meaning.  I certainly attribute my  faith and determination to my recovery thus far, of course with the continued support of my friends, family, physical and occupational therapists, co-workers, and even people I don’t know personally.

With this life changing event, not only is the physical aspect difficult to deal with but also the emotional and mental pieces are equally as overwhelming and challenging; but I strive to live life just as I did prior to the injury. I now have aspirations of writing a book that will serve as a resource for other SCI women, since we only make up 20% of SCIs, but also as a motivation for others dealing with their own challenges. My hope is that others will be able to take away something from reading my story and day-to-day challenges that will help them look at the positive in their lives. I am a firm believer that a  positive mindset helps the body heal, as the well-known author and Doctor, Deepak Chopra, has written many books on. Essentially we all have our own challenges and set-backs are inevitable but we must live on. I always knew that I would make a difference in this world- I just didn’t know that this would be the means in which I would do so.

While I continued to rehab three days a week and swim one day a week, I returned to work part-time in February 2010 at Social and Scientific Systems as a Health Analyst for the AIDS Clinical Trials Group, which is the company I was with prior to my injury. One of the challenges that I face every day is time, as it takes me much longer to do daily activities (etc., dress, shower, travel) which is frustrating and sometimes I really have to push myself to just go despite my aching back and shoulders, spasms and nerve pain in my legs and fatigue. Nonetheless I still have the passion to serve others, a moral that was instilled in me at an early age through my grandmothers and parents. When I returned back to work part-time, it was a joy to spend a year volunteering at Families Foremost Center in Silver Spring, MD which is a community-based organization that supports families and their children. There I tutored parents aspiring to obtain their GED.

Currently, I am working full time and training in the pool four to five days a week with one day of rowing and strength/ conditioning throughout. Other projects to keep me busy include serving as a member of metro’s accessibility advisory committee, being a peer mentor at NRH for other SCI patients, and involvement in getting an HIV/AIDS ministry and outreach program going at my church.

Although my focus has been my health, rehab and recovery, my passion for others has not diminished. And while I am raising money for two pieces of equipment and an SCI conference, remaining funds will go to the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities at Baylor College of Medicine and the National Rehabilitation Hospital. (When you click on the NRH link, notice that I am pictured in the pool on the flash screen on the first page!) Visit the Funding page for more information.

“Sometimes what seems to be a series of unfortunate events is really the start of a journey.”
~Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events