Here’s what one Northeastern graduate is doing to help students handle their medical expenses

Disability Resource Center in Dodge Hall. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The last time Christopher Anselmo had full physical mobility, he was a student at Northeastern.

Shortly after graduating in 2008, Anselmo was diagnosed with an adult-onset form of muscular dystrophy called Miyoshi Myopathy, which causes progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass in the body.

Now a motivational speaker and marketing consultant for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Anselmo has decided to help Northeastern students with physical, emotional, or learning disabilities have a college experience as enjoyable and memorable as his time at the university.   

Katherine Isbell. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Anselmo raised money to give two students registered with the Disability Resource Center $1,000 awards to spend on tuition, housing, or equipment to help them live independently. The center provides students with disabilities the appropriate housing and classroom accommodations they need to succeed in college.

“Students with any sort of disability can accomplish just as much as anyone else,” said Anselmo. “But I still recognize that they might need a little extra support and I hope this can be something that will empower them further.”

Anselmo’s desire to help students comes from knowing how having a support system can make a positive impact in someone’s life. As his physical ability began to deteriorate, Anselmo said, he fell into depression. But with the support of his parents, he enrolled in business school and started a blog about his experience with muscular dystrophy. For that reason, the awards are given in the name of his parents, Ralph and Theresa Anselmo.

“The spark that got me out of my funk was realizing how much I enjoyed sharing my story and connecting with other patients,” said Anselmo. “There was meaning to what I was going through and it gives me a lot of joy to help other people.”

Award applicants had to submit an essay reflecting on how they have overcome challenges in the past and how they would use the money if selected. Disability Resource Center staff reviewed the submissions and chose Katherine Isbell, who has Type 1 diabetes, and Hannah Liistro, who has a cognitive disability that makes it especially hard for her to do math.

Hannah Liistro. Courtesy photo

“Both of the students who were chosen emailed me back within minutes after I notified them,” said Mary Barrows, senior director of learning strategies and student success for the Disability Resource Center. “They were both absolutely thrilled and thankful to be chosen.”

Liistro and Isbell both said that Anselmo’s story resonated with their personal struggles.

“I related to Christopher’s story because I’ve also sought out the help I need,” said Liistro, a political science major, who used the award to help pay her tuition. “Without the Disability Resource Center, I don’t think I would have done as well in school.”

The Disability Resource Center gives out seven awards funded by alumni or former staff each year to students registered with the center. Anselmo said he will continue to raise money so he can help students year after year.

“I’m really grateful because what this gives me is peace of mind,” said Isbell, who is studying journalism. “I don’t have to worry about buying textbooks and that taking away money that could have been going towards my medical expenses.”

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