One of the first winners of a Pillars of Strength Scholarship and her new husband are adjusting to a life with challenges they are determined to overcome.
Danielle Kelly left her job and her home in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to spend more than 20 months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where she helped U.S. Navy Petty Officer Taylor Morris—her high school sweetheart and boyfriend of ten years—recover from severe injuries received while on a combat reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan.
Danielle remained with Morris throughout his recuperation and the intensive outpatient physical therapy necessary to train him to use the prosthetics that replaced his right hand and both legs.
While living in Maryland, Danielle was among the first group of volunteer caregivers to be awarded a Pillars of Strength Scholarship in April 2013. She started using her scholarship almost immediately, taking online courses toward earning an MBA from UMUC.
"When the scholarship came along, going back to school for my MBA was pretty much a no-brainer. It gave me a way to further my education and make myself more marketable for when I returned home and got back into the workforce," Danielle said.
Asked for any advice she might have for someone thinking about starting or going back to school, Danielle said "People can always make excuses. But if you think education will help you obtain the kind of life you want, there's always a way to make it work and get your degree—no matter what your circumstances are."
After Taylor was discharged from the Navy in May 2014, the couple moved back home to Cedar Falls, where they both grew up in large families, with lots of relatives living close by and providing a supportive community. At home, Danielle continued her online UMUC studies and completed her MBA program in September 2015. The couple was married less than a month later, and Danielle has gone back to work as a realtor, sharing that skills she acquired through the MBA program have already helped her think outside the box and critically analyze her daily operations.
"Our new normal is getting back into the groove of life. Taylor has come a long way and is not only able to stand and walk but also to run, swim, kayak, snowboard, and bike. He is back in school at the University of Northern Iowa and working on opening the Cedar Valley Makers Space, a shared workspace offering tools and equipment and a think-tank setting to help crafters, tinkerers, and builders pursue their own projects. I am working hard each day to expand my business," says Danielle.
"We want to build our home and settle back into life after injury. We will not let the injury define our lives. We may have to go about things differently but we know we will always have the life that we wanted to have. We are excited to see what the future holds, and having my MBA will only accelerate our accomplishments!"