Sunday Conversation with Kelsey Norris

Special needs teen makes volunteering a life-long goal

The doctors at the orphanage in Russia said that Kelsey Norris might never walk. They didn’t know that she would soar. The 14-year-old has co-authored her first book, “I Want To Make A Difference,” with Carol Norris, the single mom from Bonaire who adopted her. Kelsey already has made a difference, having earned more than 2,500 community service hours and raising more than $30,000 for charities. Among her volunteer efforts is collecting more than three tons of dog food for the Flint Humane Society. People have noticed all the good works. Kelsey was recognized as one of the country’s top 10 youth volunteers for 2017. On Feb. 9, the teen, who was born with a rare genetic disorder and autism, received the “Yes I Can” award from the Council for Exceptional Children, an association of special education professionals. The accolades are nice, Kelsey says. “But I like helping people more than getting awards. Helping people is the easy part. Standing in front of a crowd and getting an award and speaking is harder for me.”

Q: What kind of things are you involved with?

A: I collect food for hungry students. I collect food for the dogs at the animal shelter. I put together "adventure bags" full of things like soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, games, notepaper and blankets for kids who need help. I collect and donate clinic supplies for schools that need them. I am also a dancer, gymnast and swim team member. I get all As at school and am a Junior Beta Club member. I also do pageants on the weekends. I almost forgot to tell you that I just wrote a book.

Q: Why did you and your mom write this book?

A: People like hearing the stories that my mom tells about me. Our friends suggested that we write a book. We just signed a second book deal. It is about our two rescue dogs, Izzie and Sadie. When I was in the second grade, Izzie saved my life by pulling me out of a stream after I became lost in the Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area that runs behind my house. I want some of the proceeds from that book to be donated to an animal shelter.

Q: What’s your story?

A: My mom found me in a Russian orphanage when I was 11 months old. I was alone, sick and starving. She brought me home to Bonaire. We are a family — my mom and me.

Q: You have been diagnosed with autism, intellectual disabilities and Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome. How do these conditions affect your life?

A: Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome is a very rare genetic disorder. People with this condition are short — I am shorter than my friends — and we can have learning disabilities and an increased risk of cancer. I sometimes can't think of the right words to say because I have autism. Sometimes I have to try harder than everybody else but that is OK because I never quit. My mom taught me that. I can grow up to do anything I want as long as I work hard enough and never give up. That is what our book is about.

Q: Why do you think people like your book?

A: Everybody faces challenges. Everybody has a story.

Q: What do you think other people would get out of volunteering and helping other people?

A: Everybody should help somebody. You should treat people like you want to be treated. Everybody is going to need help at some time in their life. Helping makes you happy.

Q: How are you making a difference now?

A: Kids are no longer hungry when they are not at school. The dogs at the shelter have something to eat. Kids have a backpack full of supplies that they need. Kids who get sick or hurt at school have Band-Aids and other things they need to make them feel better.

Q: How do you hope to make a difference in your life?

A: When I am older, I am going to start a foundation that will help children who need help. I want it to also help animals that need help too. I like helping people and animals. People with disabilities can make a difference in other people's lives and make their community a better place to live. My mom taught me that.

“I Want To Make A Difference,” the book Kesley Norris wrote with her mother, Carol Norris, is available online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.