Over the last few weeks, Rachel Barcellona has been featured on CNN, NewsWeek, and several other new media outlets as the first woman with autism to compete at Miss Florida. But I felt compelled to write this post to make sure everyone knows that she is so much more.
I initially met her as a tween almost 10 years ago for a photoshoot with Supermodels Unlimited Magazine. I take pride in knowing I encouraged her to get back into pageants then! But I did not know until a few months later she has aspergers. Honestly, I was not too familiar with aspergers or autism at the time. I just knew she was a little shy, but really sweet. There was just something so sincere about Rachel since the moment I met her.
Since that time she has left an incredible legacy as an Autism Advocate and beauty queen. I could not fit all her accomplishments in this introduction, so I had to break this post into two segments: 14 Reasons Why Rachel Barcellona should be America’s Sweetheart, and her Lady Code Interview.
14 Reasons Why Rachel Barcellona should be America’s Sweetheart
1. She travels around the world to educate those on autism
She has traveled to Prague, Czech Republic with the Global Autism Project to educate people there how to teach and work with children with autism so that they are independent. She says “I spoke at an international seminar and it was translated in four different languages to teachers, health care service providers, and parents.”
2. She’s scholarly – a double major and also studying two languages in college
Currently she is a junior at University of South Florida majoring in English and Communications with a minor in creative writing and also studying Russian and Spanish languages.
3. And while she is studying and making a difference, she ALSO has a job!
“I’m employed by Glazer Children’s Museum in Tampa. I enjoy working with the children and helping them learn through an amazing interactive environment. We have started a program on Sunday called Sunshine Sundays to bring kids with all disabilities into the museum with the lights down low and so that it is less crowded so they can enjoy the museum for a few hours without it being crazy and this summer we are incorporating the first camp for children with autism.”
4. She is a talented singer whose performed in front of thousands
She has performed in London, Madison Square Garden several times, and at professional sporting events. This September she will be traveling back to New York to sing at the Yankees baseball game.
5. Rachel is fierce on the runway
She has walked during New York Fashion Week and with other shows. She also has a great sense of style as seen by her pageant wardrobe!
6. Rachel serves on the board for several non-profit organizations
- USF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities
- Els for Autism, which is a charity and school built by her friend and professional golfer Ernie Els
- In 2017 she won the Ernie Els for Autism Award of Excellence
- Unicorn Children’s Foundation, which provides education and services for youth with disabilities.
7. As a board member, she holds multiple roles
She is on the Advisory Board Safe Minds, where she writes on their blog, and will be going to the White House to speak and advocate for the Autism Care Act.
8. Rachel is sincere
Everything she does is through the kindness of her heart. She does not need to fill up her resume with any more accolades or have a facade of accomplishments because the bottom line is that she really cares.
9. She helps coordinate social activities for those with disabilities
She is an ambassador at HUG – Help Us Gather, a website created by her friend Robin Lally in Tampa Bay. It provides social outlet activities and planned events for people with disabilities, broken down into age-appropriate categories from toddlers up through adulthood.
10. She speaks out on other issues she cares about
While she’s most notable in being a spokesperson for autism, she is also always supportive of other causes outside her platform. She knows with her public figure status, she can also speak up on other issues dear to her.
11. She is an author
She is a passionate writer, and is currently in the works of writing a science fiction novel.
12. Rachel is fun and super relatable!
Rachel is down-to-earth. My day is always better when I see her posting about SpongeBob on my news feed.
13. Rachel has her own documentary
Seriously, is there anything she CAN’T do?
14. She is a hustler.
Rachel did not get to where she was without working her tail-end off. Over the last few years, she has competed in several local pageants to be at Miss Florida. She could have gave up, but instead she persisted and once she was crowned Miss Manatee River, she took the media by storm!
Lady Code Interview
What do people know you most for?
I believe community service. I was just honored to receive a declaration from the City of Tampa for my volunteer service!
Were there any obstacles you had to overcome in your path to success?
Most definitely everyone has challenges, having autism I went through many different therapies such as occupational, physical and speech and language therapy. Music therapy also helped me to adjust to loud noises when I was younger and now it dies not bother me at all. Of course being different in any way is cause for bullying which is a huge problem today. We as a society really need to be nicer to each other and more accepting of differences. I have chosen to advocate for this. My hope is in some small way what I am doing can help some one else that might be going through some if the challenges I gave growing up.
What are some of the coolest experiences you have had as an advocate for autism?
Singing the National Anthem at the Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey game in front of 20,000 people was Incredible! My Grandfather used to play hockey and he passed away a few years ago. The day I sang the anthem was the day he passed away 3 years prior and I knew he was with me! I also got to sing in London and sit in the Queens box at the Royal Opera House!
How have you been able to empower women through your platform?
I think I have been able to empower people by just being myself and sharing things that have helped. People connect with this and it is helpful to know we are not alone. I try always to speak from my heart.
What inspired you to get into pageants?
I tried pageants when I was younger but it was a terrible experience with all if the people noise it made me feel overwhelmed, I was 5 or 6 at that time. Fast forward to an SU shoot with Elizabeth Tran and Marc Passera. I believe I was 13. They encouraged me to try again! My parents have always supported me and found pageants that were service/ volunteer minded and with amazing people. The skills I have learned from pageantry as far as meeting people and interview skills have been life changing.
How do you deal with people that try to put you down?
Well that’s not easy as I do take heart to what people say. I usually talk with my family and try to look at things from both sides. I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of supportive people and always remember you cannot please everyone but if you try your best and stay true to your heart that will always get you through.
How did you reach this level of success?
I just love what I am doing and the organizations I work with. I have been working for ten years to advocate and help others. I think when now I have reached a point and being 22 now, people take you more seriously.
I plan to continue my education and would love to pursue my master’s degree. That is also a reason why I chose Miss Florida as they provide amazing scholarship opportunities.
School and School work. I also try to exercise at least 3 times per week. I take vocal lessons weekly and volunteer or am involved in some kind of community service every weekend. I also love to write.
As a kid, did you think you would be doing what you do now?
Never in a million years! I dreamed of being successful but doubted myself many times but my heart told me keep going!
Rachel Barcellona is an incredible person. The Miss America Organization would be SO LUCKY AND BLESSED to have Rachel represent their organization as a young lady who can do anything she sets her mind to no matter the circumstance.
Let’s support her on her journey to Miss Florida at https://form.jotform.com/91578448491168. The competition is June 24-June 28th in Lakeland, Florida.
Follow her journey on:
Website (Coming June 23): http://www.rachelbarcellona.com