Children need constant encouragement while growing up. One author from Georgia is trying her best to encourage and inspire young readers in Jackson County through her books.
Best-selling children’s author and illustrator Michelle Nelson-Schmidt travels all over the United States to share her message — that persistence and hard work can overcome almost any obstacle.
Nelson-Schmidt wants to make sure children know that reading is a key factor, no matter what their dreams might be.
Students at Seymour Community Schools, St. Ambrose Catholic School and Medora Elementary School in Jackson County and Brush Creek Elementary School in Jennings County were treated to her presentations this week.
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Medora recently received a President’s Grant on behalf of the Jackson County Unrestricted Endowment from the Community Foundation of Jackson County, which covered the cost of the author’s visit to that school in the southwestern part of the county.
“The speaking engagement required a fee, and our spending was limited,” said Austin Absher, principal of Medora Elementary School. “We didn’t reach out to anyone, but Peggy Stark did. As a result, Medora Elementary received a grant, which allowed us to be included on the author’s book tour.”
Stark, an Usborne Books and More representative, found out the author was coming to the area and learned that funding at Medora Elementary was tight, so she contacted the Community Foundation on the school’s behalf.
“I wanted to make sure all of the area schools would be able to have the author come visit,” Stark said.
The Jackson County Unrestricted Endowment is a fund administered by the Community Foundation that generates grant dollars to address emerging needs throughout Jackson County.
“A part of those earnings are earmarked for President’s Grants. I awarded such a grant to Medora Community Schools to help fund the author’s visit at Medora, finding it a worthwhile project,” said Dan Davis, president and CEO of the foundation. “We’re pleased to help bring Nelson-Schmidt’s important message for children about striving to achieve their dreams and reaching their greatest potential.”
Nelson-Schmidt’s journey began in New Jersey when she was 4 and found a secret box hidden away in a closet at her house. She opened it up and found beautiful pencil drawings her mother had sketched. That was when she knew art would be a big part of her life.
She found herself drawing in all of her spare time, and then when she was in high school, her art teacher gave her a box of paints, so she created a small art studio in her bedroom.
Hoping to attend an art school after graduation, Nelson-Schmidt said her family could not afford it. She, however, was determined, so she worked three different jobs to pay her way through college at the Art Institute of Dallas.
After college, she became a graphic designer and married Kevin Schmidt, and they had two children.
In the mid-2000s, she decided to write stories to go along with her drawings. After researching different publishers, she began submitting her work.
Nelson-Schmidt was rejected for nearly three years until her first published book, “Dogs, Dogs,” was accepted and then published in 2011 by EDC Publishing.
Nelson-Schmidt also is an illustrator and shared some huge paintings of the artwork from her books, and she shared pet paintings she had created, too.
She hopes everyone comes away from her school visits feeling inspired and encouraged.
“For each child that hears me speak, what I hope most of all is that by the end of the presentation, they believe with all of their heart and soul that they can have whatever magical life they want,” Nelson-Schmidt said. “Also, that they truly believe in themselves and their dreams.”
Two students from Kara Thompson’s fifth-grade class at Emerson Elementary School in Seymour were especially inspired by the author’s program.
Mariana Westbrook and Kaelin Grube both like to write and enjoyed Nelson-Schmidt’s presentation.
“I might like to be a writer someday,” Mariana said. “I like to write about dragons and mostly animals. I also like to write about things that happen to me, but I change it a little bit.”
Kaelin said she likes to write fiction stories, and her mother tells her that she is a good writer. Neither of the students had previously read the author’s books, but after the presentation, both agreed that “Bob is a Unicorn” was their favorite of her stories.
During her visit to the local schools, Nelson-Schmidt shared the messages from four of her children’s books, “Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster,” “Bob is a Unicorn,” “Dog and Mouse” and “Cordelia.” She has a total of six published books.
This was the 44-year-old author’s second visit to schools in the Seymour area.
At the end of each presentation, Nelson-Schmidt asks the students to take the “Pinkie Promise,” where they recite, “I promise, Miss Michelle, I will follow my heart, I will follow my dreams with everything I’ve got, no matter what, no matter what if, and I will tell her one day.”
A 20-year resident of Lilburn, Georgia, near Atlanta, Nelson-Schmidt travels to schools all over the United States reading her books to them.
“I talk about my journey and encourage them to follow their dreams with everything they’ve got, no matter what,” she said. “My life is magical, it truly is, and every minute, even the doubting, painful ones, were so worth it to get to here.”
When Nelson-Schmidt is not traveling, she is at home with the loves of her life, her husband, Kevin; son, Noah, 20; daughter, Sophia, 18; and their two dogs, Piggy Pie and Otto Von Schmidt. Both of their children are in college.
“Sometimes, kids ask me if I’m rich, and I like it when they do,” Nelson-Schmidt said. “Then I can explain to them that when you get to love your life and love what you do, that’s how I define being rich.”
The Community Foundation of Jackson County
Individuals and businesses make donations to the 15 unrestricted endowments or more than 100 other endowed funds administered by the Community Foundation of Jackson County.
Donations may be mailed to the foundation at P.O. Box 1231, Seymour, IN 47274, dropped off at its office at 107 Community Drive in Seymour or made online at cfjacksoncounty.org.
For information, call foundation President and CEO Dan Davis at 812-523-4483.
For information about Michelle Nelson-Schmidt and her books, visit whatifmonsters.com.