PRESS RELEASE: Need for Iowa’s first brain injury clubhouse: Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa and Empower House join efforts to advocate at Iowa Statehouse

Demonstrating the need for the first brain injury clubhouse in the state was the goal when the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa invited founders and members of Empower House — a Brain Injury Clubhouse — to participate in Brain Injury Alliance Hill Day at the Iowa Statehouse on March 27.

That goal was met when Rep. Norlin Mommsen (R-District 97) introduced those of Empower House on the floor of the Iowa House and Sen. Chris Cournoyer  (R-District 49) introduced them on the floor of the Senate. Later, with the assistance of Geoffrey Lauer, CEO of the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa, the group met one-on-one with some legislators.

“I felt it was important to give our legislators the opportunity to understand the need for this clubhouse — the first Brain Injury Clubhouse in the state of Iowa,” says Hill Day participant Sheila Boyd of LeClaire, Iowa.

“My husband, Bob, suffered a brain tumor the size of a fist in the center of his brain. Over the past eight years, we have had quite the journey: surgeries, seizures, two more brain tumors, radiation and now an official diagnosis of dementia resulting from the damage to his brain. The resources and community environment post-rehab are not there for those who are functioning enough to be able to maintain skills and the desire to still want to be useful. I felt that with Bob and I attending Hill Day, we could share our story to help give understanding to what it's like to live with brain injury and the importance of the resources the clubhouse will give to not only the survivors, but also their families, caregivers and the community as a whole,” she says.

Being introduced to members of the Iowa House and Senate “allowed us to talk about the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa, but more importantly to share information about Empower House — what it is, what it does, who it helps and why it is important. Announcing it in both the House and Senate showed our colleagues that it is important, and it gave all the legislators information on why they were there and let them know that they could talk more to Sheila and Bob to learn more. It was an honor for me to introduce them in the Iowa Senate and they received a standing ovation,” says Cournoyer, whose district includes the Boyds’ hometown.

The Boyds are not alone in dealing with the challenges that result from a brain injury. There are at least 95,000 Iowans living with long-term disabilities as a result of an acquired brain injury, according to the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa.

 Mickey Owens and the other founding therapists of Empower House have seen firsthand what can happen without the needed resources after initial therapy.

“After therapy ends, many of these Iowans have nowhere else to go. They lose their purpose, become isolated and begin to decline,” says Owens, an occupational therapist for more than 24 years whose specialty is working with survivors of brain injuries and strokes. Seeing these patients decline after going through so much to try to regain their skills “is heartbreaking,” she says.

That is why Owens and her twin sister, Missey Heinrichs, a speech therapist who also specializes in the treatment of those who have suffered a brain injury, began looking for what else could be done to assist these patients.

 “We felt there had to be something more – more services we can offer these individuals,” Owens says.

“We found it in the clubhouse model.  About a year ago, we met with other therapists [Kami Holst and Claire Motto] and started talking about this project and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We visited other clubhouses, went to training and are now working on creating the first stand-alone clubhouse in Iowa.”

Since the beginning of their effort, the Brian Injury Alliance of Iowa has been a strong supporter.

“CEO Geoffrey [Lauer] with the Brain Injury Alliance is a very strong supporter of the clubhouse model and has been a part of our group since the beginning. He had wanted to develop something like this many years ago. Because of his dedication to the project, he invited us to join the Alliance for Brain Injury Alliance Hill Day on March 27,” Owens says.

“The mission of Empower House aligns with the mission of the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa in that it has a focus on providing help, hope and healing to Iowans with brain injury and their families,” Lauer says. “For individuals with brain injury, Empower House will fill a key gap in the recovery process from brain injury.  Learning about the Empower House mission and board members over the past months has motivated the BIAIA board and staff to find ways to collaborate with the effort to manifest a sustainable program for a brain injury clubhouse in the Quad-Cities as a model for replication in other areas of Iowa.”  

 All involved felt the visit to the Iowa Capitol was impactful. “Some people had heard about the clubhouse. Others had connections with those who have suffered a brain injury or stroke, so they understood the need and were very much in favor of this project. The purpose of this visit was to make those introductions and make our presence known. The next Hill day we will do more advocating,” Owens says.

“This project is a true grassroots effort,” Cournoyer says. “It takes dedicated people like Sheila and Missey to really identify the need, to understand its importance and how it can positively impact people and then step up to do something about it! This project will take a real concerted effort of public/private partnerships at a local level that, once established, can be scaled across the state with best practices, resources and support. As legislators, we can help support the effort by advocating for sustainable funding as well as connecting them with resources that can help with funding, staffing, awareness and education.”

Lauer agrees and adds, “What is needed now is community support for the effort. The Empower House team is responding to a well-defined need in their community.  What they need is additional volunteers and benefactors to make the vision a reality.  I encourage anyone who has been impacted by brain injury to reach out to Empower House to lend time, talent and treasure.”

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Empower House — A Brain Injury Clubhouse: The group is fundraising to create a stand-alone clubhouse, a place where people with brain injuries come to be productive and be in an environment where they can learn work and life skills. The daily activity of a clubhouse is organized around a structured system known as the work-ordered day as a way to provide members with opportunities to return to employment in integrated work settings through transitional, supported and independent employment programs. This includes both on- and off-site support from clubhouse staff and members. In addition to the work opportunities, the clubhouse provides social and recreational programs outside of the work-ordered day, including evening, weekend and holiday programs.

The clubhouse is currently meeting on a limited basis from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. every Thursday at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, Iowa. For more information, go to empowerhouseqca.org.

Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa (BIAIA): BIAIA’s mission is to create a better future through brain injury prevention, advocacy, education, research and support. Staffed by a statewide team of professional staff, BIAIA develops, deploys and evaluates an array of research-based and national best-practices services designed to support Iowans with brain injury in accessing and keeping a range of services and supports to help reduce the level of “disability” resulting from brain injury. BIAIA has also become increasingly active at influencing policy that impacts not only Iowans with brain injury but also other Iowans with disabilities. It provides education to help raise awareness about brain injuries and help prevent them. For more information, go to info@biaia.org.

 

Claire Motto