Donalisa Helsley has been writing since she was in first grade.
“I was only allowed to watch one television show a week, so I spent my time reading and writing my own stories,” the USC School of Social Work student said.
Now all that practice has paid off.
Helsley’s first published children’s book, “The Day No One Played Together,” has received a Mom’s Choice Award, an honor that recognizes excellence in family-friendly products, services and media.
Helsley, a Tulsa native pursuing a Master of Social Work through the Virtual Academic Center, promised her daughter Jadyn that she would write a book for her. Jadyn—who is black, white and Chinese—wanted to see a book with a main character that looked like her. The book grew out of Helsley’s own parenting and tells the story of two sisters learning to compromise—a lesson she taught her own daughters Jadyn and Genesis.
“My girls are ecstatic! They love to read the book and look at the illustrated versions of themselves,” Helsley said.
Reading is a passion Helsley developed at a young age, in part, as a reaction to being bullied at school. Helsley found escape from constant bullying in the world of fiction.
“I could slip into another world or another life,” she said.
When Helsley was in ninth grade, she attended a private school. But she wasn’t exactly like the other students.
Though her parents worked hard to ensure that she and her sister had the best education possible, they wore clothes from thrift stores and their mother picked them up from school in a “raggedy car that backfired every time.” Helsley said classmates called her names, spit on her, pushed her around and made up rumors about her.
Help and encouragement from her school’s counselor inspired her to become a therapist herself.
Helsley began her path in psychology in 1997, working as a psychiatric technician and life skills coach. She eventually applied to and was accepted into the MSW@USC program last year. The web-based curriculum offers Helsley a challenging, yet convenient way for her to earn her degree from home while being a working mother.
She plans to graduate in May and become a licensed counselor and start a program for bullied children and adolescents. Helsley also hopes to continue publishing children’s books aimed at helping parents and children develop healthy life skills.
“I may not be able to reach out and touch a massive amount of people, but I know that I can make a difference by helping one person,” Helsley said. “That is how change starts—one person at a time. The possibility of leaving the world a better place than it was when I entered it is what inspires me.”