Rhonda Seltz

Born and raised in the New River Valley, Rhonda Seltz is not just an ordinary professor at Radford University.

“As a child, I always had a desire to make significant changes at a higher level. I wanted life to be different,” Seltz said.

Seltz grew up in a less than apathetic family. Through her own shortcomings, she preferred to attend to the needs of others.

“I wanted to get out and do something. I’m not happy unless I help other people,” she said.

At age 16, Seltz knew she wanted to go to college. She worked her way into Virginia Tech where she received her bachelor degree in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. Seltz later returned for her Masters at California State University. During this time, she worked with the chronically mentally ill and the homeless at a communal clinical psychiatry.

Seltz was awarded her degree in March of 1988. She packed up her things and moved to Washington State, a state then notorious for drugs, crime trafficking and racial wars. She saw the need for social change and started a monthly community organization with neighborhood meetings. The organization expanded, and in 1994 won the “All American City” award by the National Civic League. This award saluted the strength of her community in Yakima for their ability to remain whole and connected in the worst of situations.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is what we were able to do there in Northwest Yakima, Washington,” Seltz said.

In 1999, Seltz moved back to Virginia. She became the head director of Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS).

According to the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey, close to “70 percent of uninsured children live in low-income families, compared to just over 60 percent of uninsured adults. Nearly half of uninsured children live in families with income at or below 100 percent.”

Seltz made it her mission to give these people an equal opportunity for life insurance. FAMIS supports and enrolls 1,200 uninsured eligible children and pregnant women in state-sponsored health insurance programs through the CHIP Legislation. There are no monthly fees or enrollment costs. One of the biggest successes of this project is Governor Timothy M. Kaine granting $1 million to increase coverage for uninsured children from the Virginia Health Care Foundation and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation.

Between 2006 and 2008, the share of children without coverage in Virginia declined by 2.8 percent. This decline was related to an increase in the rate of employer sponsored coverage as well as increases in Medicaid and CHIP coverage.

“I really feel like I had a direct influence at the state level and a direct impact on improving medical needs for kids. Dental care was also a significant impact,” Seltz acknowledged. “I think really being able to see changes in child care programs over the years is the biggest reward. It is phenomenal. You can see that the policy being created has a direct impact on kids in your backyard.”

Aside from being the head director of FAMIS and a professor at Radford University, she is currently involved in a path committee for access to health care, Head Start Advisory Committee in the New River Valley, Virginia Health Care Foundation, Work Force Development Partner Group, and CHIP Advisory Committee. Seltz participates in various community hearings at private voting citizen town hall meetings, and church and community events. Her latest plans are to bring services to the Amish community, as well as build improvement into the Roanoke area.

“I don’t have much of a personal life. My son, 19, was a challenge when he was growing up because I had to keep myself grounded for him. He has absolutely no interest in the stuff that I do, but I do think he sees that I work a little magic. As long as I make a positive impact, I’m good,” she said.

“I have to ask myself, ‘What can I realistically do?’ I really need a lot of flexibility and permission to say what I need to say, and I have to be politically correct,” Seltz said. “Just paperwork in general creates a lot of delays.”

The biggest barrier that Seltz faces is depression, which she has fought since she was a child.

“Some days I just can barely make myself get up. Once I’m up and going, it keeps me from being depressed,” she said.

Despite her own personal battles, Seltz continues to fight for social justice. She has plans to work in another country one day, maybe Italy or the Netherlands.  Seltz has also thought about a federal job, but feels as though she may be too vocal. 

Even so, Seltz feels satisfied with the direction of her career. Interns continue to return to Radford University to share how she has impacted them.

“Just being able to teach and motivate students as well as the community is the coolest feeling. Tons of students come through. I like to create ‘little Rhonda’s’ out there who get out and fight for social justice,” Seltz said. “The most frustrating part is that some people want to do as little as they can get by doing. There are so many types of social injustices out there, but there aren’t adequate resources to fight it. Some people just don’t understand the concept of empowerment.”

Seltz is a strong believer that her own affirmative action will inspire others to become leaders. In her words, “no doesn’t really mean no.”


About ohollywould

In the words of the first computer programmer's language, "Hello World!" My name is Holly Collins. I'm from the east coast representing the nation's capital in Washington, D.C. Currently, I'm a student at Radford University studying Broadcast Journalism and minoring in Art. I guess you can say I'm emotional or overly dramatic, but I have so many questions unanswered and a lot to be curious about. Please feel free to join me on my quest for understanding. "My life is ridiculous, humiliating, confusing, deceitful, dramatic, unpredictable, typical; to sum it all up, my life is AMAZING"
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