A little help and encouragement can go a long way.
In November 2010, Ruth Welland, a 37-year-old Sacramento City College student, was featured in The Bee's Book of Dreams. Welland, who had lost her sight seven years earlier as a result of diabetes, needed a $500 desktop personal computer to help with her studies. Bee readers responded with donations, filling the need.
Last week Welland was honored as a member of the All-California Academic Team, ranking among the top 68 community college students statewide. Students were selected on the basis of academic achievement, community service and involvement in campus activities.
A member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, Welland will graduate May 16 with an associate of arts degree. She has applied to Stanford and Columbia universities to continue her education.
Welland credits the story in the Book of Dreams with providing her more than a computer.
"It was the catalyst that has allowed me to be in this moment," she said.
An English major who loves to sing, Welland considered applying to the Juilliard School in New York City, but she believes her future lies in helping people with disabilities.
"I'm leaving my options open, just in case I might want to go to law school," Welland said.
A pivotal moment occurred when she attended a Regional Transit hearing regarding fare increases and reductions in paratransit services due to budget cuts.
"I went in with a lot of excitement and passion, but I realized I didn't understand the political aspects of it," Welland said.
In fall 2010, she founded Voices of Hope, an advocacy club for students with disabilities at Sacramento City College. The group has operated with about a dozen core members but recently signed up an additional 21 people, she said.
On April 19, the group will sponsor Disability Awareness Day and has invited various government representatives to discuss efforts on behalf of people with disabilities.
Since its founding, the club has worked to improve communication between disabled students and City College's faculty and staff. Welland said she has worked with campus police, for example, to organize an emergency preparedness summit to discuss how to aid disabled students in the event of an emergency evacuation.
She praised college officials' willingness to help students with disabilities achieve their academic goals, even as budget cuts curtail some services.
This spring, Voices of Hope will present six students with motivational awards of $150 each to encourage them to pursue academic success and to continue to be self-advocates.
Welland said she hopes the awards will encourage them as the assistance she received through the Book of Dreams encouraged her.
"I do want to thank all the sponsors, all the people that read my story," Welland said. "Even if they were not able to help financially, perhaps they said a prayer for me."