Madison resident Rachel Salvo fought hard to be this happy and wants to inspire others to celebrate the joy in their own lives with her #365daysofjoy movement. (Photo by Melissa Babcock/The Source
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Countless people can relate to Rachel Salvo's challenges, both recent ones and those in the more distant past. Several years ago, she was "very, very depressed," she says, and 60 pounds heavier. She and her husband, Dennis, divorced. She lost her home and moved into a smaller rental. Her life eventually righted itself and did a complete 180, and it is kept on course with the wisdom and experience Rachel hadn't yet found in her 20s. Last September, she and Dennis married each other again, this time surrounded by their two children, dozens of friends, and fellow Madison community members. On her phone, she displays a side-by-side comparison of a 2001 wedding photo with one from 2014. She looks like a different person-60 pounds lighter with a knowing, confident smile much different from the timid one flitting across her younger face. She has found myriad ways to manage her depression over the years, including medication, exercise, and working hard to change her thought process and train her mental focus. To meet her now is to come face-to-face with a trim, bouncy woman with twinkling eyes, a wide grin, and proudly earned laugh lines. Now that Rachel has joy in her grasp, she refuses to let it go-and she refuses to keep it to herself, using social media as a tool to inspire others and share messages of joy. "The biggest thing I'm involved with right now is I've been committed to sharing 365 days of joy," she says. "That's a hashtag that I started probably a little over a year ago, because it was a way for me to be accountable to appreciate the simple things in life that we have and pay it forward. It evolved from there as a way for me to stay in my kids' lives and keep my eyes and ears open." Rachel and Dennis have a daughter named Ruby, 11, and a son, Miller, 12, whose first name is Rachel's maiden name. Dennis owns an auto-detailing business, Details by Dennis, which he started in 1993. Dennis has lived in Madison his entire life, while Rachel, an Arizona native, settled in Madison after her father's job took her family all over the U.S. when she was younger. Rachel has found kindred spirits among some of her fellow Madison residents. She met Susan McDevitt, a Madison resident with Lynch syndrome who has worked to raise awareness through events like Comedy for Cancer, which will host its second annual fundraising event on Saturday, March 28 at 7 p.m. featuring nationally known comedians at Bill Miller's Castle in Branford. Rachel helps spread the word about and sell tickets for Comedy for Cancer, "inviting others to go and pay it forward," she says. McDevitt is also leader of the Pizza People, a group including Rachel who collect and deliver donations of food, toiletries, clothing, and pizza to homeless folks on the New Haven Green. "I'm more of a hands-on person. I like to 'do'," Rachel explains, "so by joining communities like the Pizza People, I get to go and see who I'm giving the clothes to and have empathy for people. And whether they're recovering addicts or they're mentally ill or whatever, it gives me a chance to be face-to-face with those people, and I like that. I like to feel that. So I can share that through photographs or comments with all the people that have given so much and donated so much." Rachel is also involved with OutRUN 38, a Facebook community of runners and walkers who live all over and post the miles they walk or run to support Madison resident and avid runner Liz Shuman, who has cystic fibrosis. "Getting out every day and just running or walking a mile has made me feel better physically, and encouraged my family," Rachel says. "My husband has no issue staying fit, but the kids will get out and walk with me or run with me. It's been good for the whole family, so I pay that forward to the whole community, and all the miles count and we're making a difference in the lives of people fighting cystic fibrosis." Another social media community Rachel cares about is the Never Settle Club. "It's an entrepreneurship club," she says. "The founder is Mario Armstrong; he was the tech analyst for the Today show, and I'd always followed him. Through that Never Settle connection, we were able to go to New York, and the Today show appreciated us as being fans of the week, and that was really nice. It was a moment that we'll cherish. There's a ton of people online who educate me every day about how to do better, what they do, what works, where the glitches are in what systems, and this and that, so I read and study this group of social media evangelists." Rachel forges strong and authentic connections by wearing her heart on her sleeve and revealing herself fully to others. "I'm transparent. I am exactly what you see and what you hear, and I share what I do, so I think people see humanity in that; they see that's a real person with real struggles making a real difference. I am a believer in second chances. There are a lot of people who are depressed or anxious or they're home with their kids and it's a bad day, or have a small business that's struggling, but there are ways that you can improve your life, do better and be better, and it's really the simple things where we find joy. That's where 365 days of joy came from. It's not necessarily about one thing a day; it's more of a lifestyle choice." She adds, "Social media's not going anywhere, and I think the more positive we can make it to help people, the better." To learn more about Rachel and the online communities she follows, visit her blog at www.ctgirlonthego.com, and partake in the nearly 2,000 posts and counting of #365daysofjoy on Instagram. Read more about the Never Settle Club at www.neversettleclub.com, check out OutRUN 38 at www.outrun38.org, and learn about the upcoming Comedy for Cancer event at www.facebook.com/comedy.for.cancer.lsi. To nominate someone for Person of the Week, email Melissa at email@example.com.