by TRACY ZOLLINGER TURNER
Tyler and Justus Kelley connected through a constellation of wishes—their own, as well as those they make happen for others.
Tyler, 29, now the senior associate director of recruitment and student services at the Indiana University Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, was once a “Wish kid,” who was awarded a trip to Disney World because of a life- threatening lupus diagnosis. Justus, 25, is now an advancement officer for Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky & Indiana, where she has worked for two years to bring wishes to other young children.
Tyler and Justus both grew up in Indianapolis and came to IU through the Groups Scholars program for first-generation college students. They met in 2013, and their relationship grew through their shared involvement with a campus faith-based ministry. They married in 2017 and have a goldendoodle named Crimson—a nod to their alma mater.
Justus was the first runner-up in the 2021 Mrs. America pageant after a year-long reign as Mrs. Indiana. She won Miss Indiana University in 2016, and says she grew to love “the experience in community service that [the women] would all do together.” But most important has been her work in helping to build inclusive communities, which she has accomplished through Kiwanis International as the U.S. representative on its International Board of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Tyler is a former “Big” with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and has served on the organization’s board. Currently, he serves on the board of Middle Way House, where he and other current and former Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers held a weekly reading group at The Rise! Transitional Housing Program prior to the pandemic.
“My background is what drives me,” Tyler explains. “Coming from a little bit of nothing, I recognize there is more out there that I now have experienced and will continue to experience, and I can give that to others as well. It helps me to remember where I come from. It also helps me to show them where they can go.”
Tyler took his childhood Disney World trip with his mother, grandmother, and younger brother. Four years ago, he lost his brother to gun violence. “He had a son on the way who he never got to meet,” Tyler says. “This past August, Justus and I took his son to Disney World—in memory of him, but also wanting to give our nephew an experience like we had.”