A Life Uncommon

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Spurred by a desire to help this one child get the life-saving medicine he needed, Chelle pulled on her husband’s contacts in the Pennsylvania state government, and later in the U.S. military, to save not only this child but countless more around the world. Today, Chelle’s advocacy for children with special needs, in particular orphans, is part and parcel to the work she does with Soldier’s List, founded in 2003 to give students in the South Middleton, Pa., School District, in which she then taught, a means of showing support to local soldiers deployed to the wars in the Middle East.

“You have to understand, some of these guys, especially Guards and Reserves, have [civilian] jobs that are completely different from their military occupational specialty,” she explains.

“I get calls from ‘downrange’—Qatar, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Kosovo, Korea, you name it—regarding children that these ‘weekend warriors’ [trained surgeons, doctors and medical technicians] suspect of having congenital issues that need to be resolved or the children will die. The Armed Forces are not equipped nor ordered to handle these kiddos unless there was direct impact during a U.S. mission or imminent life stakes. So they get in touch with me,” Chelle says.

And just as her child advocacy work has grown and evolved, so, too, has Soldier’s List. The organization began as a way for people to connect with deployed military members and show their support. Over time, it evolved to support high-risk service members and their families facing such hardships as lack of family support, marital issues and the acute special needs of spouses and children. To this end, Chelle has worked diligently with the military community to educate families about their rights and responsibilities under Tricare, the health plan serving active-duty military members, and other available services.

It is for this work that Chelle was honored with the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal, presented by President Obama on Oct. 20 to her and 12 other honorees, who were selected from among nearly 6,000 nominations. Chelle was recognized “for ensuring we uphold our obligations to those who defend our freedom,” according to her official White House citation. Established in 1969, the Citizens Medal—the nation’s second-highest civilian award—“recognizes American citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.”

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