Chelsea Rae Huggins of McKenzie, a sophomore at LBW Community College majoring in psychology, is an outstanding example of overcoming adversity.
Her story of perseverance recently earned her the distinction of being named 2016 Student of the Year at both the county and state level by the Alabama Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, a program of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services.
“I am thrilled to be recognized at this level,” she said. “I strive to encourage others to persevere through any circumstance and not allow their past to determine their future.”
Six years ago at the age of 18 and a recent high school graduate, Huggins decided to enroll in college for training toward her dream of becoming a cosmetologist. Just a couple of months later in October, she climbed into the back of a Jeep for a ride with friends. The ride ended tragically when the vehicle left the road and crashed, leaving Huggins paralyzed from the chest down.
Suddenly, her dreams were put on hold. Instead of attending cosmetology classes, she spent the next four months at the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta. There she learned ways to become self-sufficient, to use adaptive equipment and how to function as normal as possible.
While in rehab, Huggins was also able to pursue a hobby in the arts.
“They asked me what I liked to do. Since I always enjoyed art, I decided to learn to paint,” she said.
By using the adaptive equipment of a mouthpiece that holds her choice of paintbrush, she learned the art of painting. While it took time, she developed her own technique and enjoys using bold, vibrant color to create works of art, many of which are featured on a Facebook page titled “Mouth Art by Chelsea Ray Huggins.”
“Today, she is reaching for a different dream, one in which she can help others in the field of psychology. She is using the same determination and tenacity demonstrated in her rehabilitation to become a college honor student,” said Latrece Hall, LBWCC counselor.
“Upon first meeting her, she made it very clear to me that she didn’t want any sympathy or special treatment,” said Hall. “She was simply a college student pursuing her degree in psychology and wanted to be treated as such.”
In order to arrive on time for classes that first semester at LBW, Huggins would rise at 4 a.m. to be in class by 8 a.m. In addition to her studies, she is active on campus through membership in several clubs and organizations, including Saints Angels, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and Student Support Services. She also serves as president of the Non-Traditional Student Association and was recently awarded the Presidential Scholarship for academic excellence.
Huggins is also expanding her world through public speaking. She served as the keynote speaker for the Butler County Healthy Woman event in March and spoke in September at Country Place Senior Living in Greenville during National Assisted Living Week.
Last year, she was named in the top five of the Ms. LBWCC pageant, won the interview portion of the competition and was named “Miss Congeniality.”
Upon completion of an associate degree at LBWCC in the spring, Huggins plans to transfer to a four-year university and ultimately earn a doctorate degree in psychology.
“I am confident that Chelsea will be successful in whatever she chooses to do,” said Hall. “She is a woman on a mission and lets nothing stand in her way. She faces every day with courage, grit and determination. Her beauty radiates from the inside out and she has a way of touching every person she meets.”