By Todd Travis
While facing a difficult situation or a struggle in life, one of the reassuring things we can take rest in is knowing that we are not alone. For Veronica Salrin, a sophomore at Center Grove High School, that moment came when she was 9 years old and attended Camp About Face at Bradford Woods in Martinsville. Partly funded through the Riley Children’s Foundation, the camp is designed for children with cleft and craniofacial differences.
“It’s really changed the way I see myself. Before then I had never met anyone who had a cleft lip and palate before, or any craniofacial difference. That was the first time I got to see other people like me,” Salrin shared.
“Not to sound cliché, but it did make me realize I wasn’t alone. It felt very accepting and open,” she continued.
Since then, she has had two other diagnoses that have helped her understand herself better and why she sometimes felt she wasn’t always like the other kids around her. In 2019 she was diagnosed with autism, and then in 2021 she was diagnosed with hypermobility syndrome, bordering on Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is a connective tissue disorder that affects collagen and connective tissue. One of the common issues is loose joints and chronic pain/weakness due to over-flexibility.
As she celebrates her 16th birthday this month, Salrin shares how she is taking the experiences she has gained and using them to help advocate for others sharing similar experiences. One of the organizations that is helping her do that is Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft-focused organization. She is part of the student ambassadors group for Smile Train. She has also been named as one of the 2023 class of Riley Champions.
Just a couple of months ago, Salrin was able to do a speech on mental health for the IASP (Indiana Association of School Principles). She spoke to a group of about 400 people. While she was nervous, she ended up really enjoying the experience.
“It went well. It was really enjoyable being able to share my story so many people and bring awareness to mental health in children, especially children who have other health problems,” Salrin recalled.
As part of the Riley class of Champions weekend, Salrin was able to stay at the hotel while she met other friends who are also part of the class and learned about public speaking to help her as she advocates for others. She was also one of the coin toss kids at the Colts game that weekend.
“Being one of the coin toss kids was super awesome. I’m not even a football fan and I thought it was awesome.” Salrin laughed.
Looking to the future, Salrin hopes to go into interior design with a focus on accessibility. She would like to help create more accessible homes and buildings that will create an opening and welcoming environment towards children, just as she has felt at Riley Hospital.
“I really would like to go to Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and I also want to apply to Carnegie Mellon University,” Salrin mentioned.
What do you consider your greatest virtue?
What do you most deplore in others?
Bigotry and lack of accountability when wrong.
What do you like most about living in Johnson County?
I like the proximity to Indianapolis while not having to deal with large crowds during sporting events.
If you had to live elsewhere than in Johnson County, where would it be?
Big cities like NYC or Chicago make me happiest. I love Indianapolis as well!
If you could begin life over, what would you change?
I would want to have no chronic illness and to live in a big city.
If money were no issue, how would you spend it?
I would travel the world, learning new things, meeting people, and trying as much food as possible.
What makes you happiest?
What is your favorite vacation spot?
My favorite place I’ve ever traveled is Greece, but I’d love to go to Hong Kong someday to further my Chinese language skills.
What do you do with idle time?
I craft things, cook, or play video games.
What is it that makes you angry?
Injustice, lack of accountability and bigotry.
What do you do to escape from reality?
I like to listen to music and take a walk or do my nails while watching YouTube essays. It’s fun to learn while doing mundane activities.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My two best friends mean more to me than anything else in the world. I can always go to them when I need support or comfort.
Which living person in Johnson County do you most admire?
Nicole Kemp. I admire her courage and the way she advocates for students. She never hesitates to speak up for others and has a good heart.
What is the quality you most like in a person?
Compassion and the ability to admit being wrong.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Being a foodie. I always want to try new things, but I’m an unemployed student.
What are your fears, phobias?
Needles, hospitals (ironic, isn’t it?), bugs and mushrooms/fungi
What has been the happiest time of your life?
Anytime I’m on vacation! I love traveling!
Which talent would you most like to possess?
I’d love to be a good singer.
What do you most value in your friends?
Their honesty and caring toward me and others.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Jennifer Keelan, the 8-year-old girl who climbed the stairs of the Capitol building to bring awareness to the ADA and the importance of accessibility.
What is your greatest regret?
I don’t think of experiences as regrets. I take them as opportunities to grow.
What tenet do you live by?
Equality for all. Stand up for yourself. Be yourself (corny).