Kelli Schandel has rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but she doesn’t let the disease control her.

Kelli Schandel has rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but she doesn’t let the disease control her.

That attitude and her countless hours of volunteer work with the Arthritis Foundation earned her the Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer Award, which was conceived by the Commission on Community Relations in 1975 to recognize and promote volunteerism by honoring individuals whose volunteer contributions are constructive, unique and outstanding.

The recent recognition came with $2,000 in prize money which Schandel donated to the Arthritis Foundation.

The award is named in honor of the late Minoru Yasui, who was a community leader in Denver, dedicated to improving the quality of life for all people. Educated as an attorney, Yasui served as executive director of the Denver Commission on Community Relations for 16 years and was a champion of human and civil rights. He died in 1986.

Schandel said Yasui was most well-known for his courageous stand against military orders that resulted in the forced removal and imprisonment of over 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

What made the awards ceremony even more special for Schandel was that her parents, Mary and Roger Miller, of Geneseo, were at the event, as were her brother and sister-in-law, Kent and Kay Miller, of Bettendorf, Iowa.

She was diagnosed as a young mother with rheumatoid arthritis and has spent the last 14 years as an unrelenting advocate, formidable leader and outstanding fundraiser for the Arthritis Foundation.

Schandel was born and raised in Geneseo, graduating from Geneseo High School in 1991, and from Clarke College, in Dubuque, Iowa.

After college, Schandel moved to Denver, Colo., where she enrolled in the Denver Paralegal Institute, and graduated with a paralegal certificate. But she chose a different career path and became a senior geoscience technologist with Encana in Denver.

Just months after starting her job with Encana, Schandel was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in April of 1999, after she experienced abnormal swelling and pain in her hands and feet.

A visit to her doctor confirmed the diagnosis of RA.

“I was on medication, but did not get better and I was then referred to a specialist and I went to the Denver Arthritis Clinic,” she said.

She will be on medication for the rest of her life, she said, and added, “Unless there is a cure.”

The medication she currently receives is an infusion that is given to her every five weeks at the Denver Arthritis Clinic and the infusion takes more than two hours to complete.

“It helps, my symptoms are much better,” she said. “I am able to get out of bed and work full time.”

Despite the challenges that come with her diagnosis, Schandel has focused on making each day better for all people who have arthritis.

“I often like to say, I have RA, but RA doesn’t have me. I don’t let the disease control me and I don’t let arthritis no’s get in my way of living my life. I am a champion of ‘yes,’ because there is no cure. I am just one person of 50 million that deal with this disease every day. Volunteering for the Arthritis Foundation makes me feel like I can make a difference.”

Schandel has served as the local chairman of the Denver Walk to Cure Arthritis and as the national chairman of the Walk to Cure Arthritis, and currently is the chairman of the Arthritis Foundation Colorado Leadership Board.

In addition, Schandel has provided strong leadership for national trainings for staff and volunteers.

She has been instrumental in implementing national special event standards for the Denver Walk to Cure Arthritis and the roll out of these standards nationwide.

She and her husband, Dan, have two sons.