Doing Good Work in Georgia
If ever there were a stroke support group with a name that is right on, brainREconnect Inc. of Brunswick, Georgia, is it. In 2013 the group, which had been meeting for many years as Stroke Support of Southeast Georgia, morphed into brainREconnect to include individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI), Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis (MS) and primary progressive aphasia. Their goal is to address the isolation that stroke and brain impairment survivors and families experience.
In 2015, under executive director and speech language pathologist Royce Laidler, MA, CCC/SLP, the group became a nonprofit in order to create a meaningful and productive presence in the community. The Mission Statement says it well: “The brainREconnect Support Group is … dedicated to providing education, resources and continued therapy opportunities, many times after insurance benefits have ended. brainREconnect Inc. is devoted to those who are struggling with the aftereffects of stroke and brain impairment, as well as their families, caregivers and friends. The Support Group is committed to creating a nonintimidating, comfortable environment providing friendship, camaraderie and hope so that group members can re-engage with others and the community through facilitated interaction, promoting recovery after the ‘crisis time’ of their medical event.”
They welcome patients and caregivers of all ages, including a 3-year-old stroke survivor. “We live in the buckle of what is known as the Stroke Belt of the United States,” said Laidler. As the adult outpatient speech pathologist for their local hospital, Laidler is in a unique position to encourage survivors to participate in the group.
“As a speech pathologist, I recognized the importance of community for individuals suffering from stroke and brain impairment, as well as education and support for the caregivers,” she said.
She knows that isolation can lead to depression and regression. Laidler comes to her advocacy naturally — she has an adopted son with spastic quadriplegia and severe brain injury from a TBI.
Support Group Meetings
Every fourth Wednesday, the Brunswick campus of the Southeast Georgia Health System provides a room for monthly support group meetings with an average attendance of about 50 members. “Educational speakers have included doctors, dentists, therapists, psychologists and insurance specialists,” said Rhonda Hand, volunteer assistant director. A healthy lunch buffet is prepared each meeting by two devoted members and plenty of time is set aside for social interaction.
Chair yoga classes help participants learn to breathe better, practice relaxation techniques, and improve balance and muscle strength. There is also an hour-long weekly communication group for those with aphasia. The communication group focuses on interactive conversation, reading, writing and initiating socialization. All programs are provided at no cost to members or families.
Members also participate in a monthly pottery class at Glynn Visual Arts, jointly funded by Southeast Georgia Health System and Advance Rehabilitation. Jeanne Morrisey, a regular at pottery class, looks forward to going as it is “her favorite thing to do,” said her son, Jerry. “An important aspect of the class is the inclusion of family members which allows us to stay connected with her through an enjoyable activity.”
In the past year, brainREconnect Inc. sponsored two shrimp boat tours on the intercoastal waterway. Each included survivors, caregivers and family members as well as local therapists and their family members. “We enjoyed a Low Country boil right on the boat with freshly caught wild Georgia shrimp, and it was fascinating to listen to the biologist on board explain about the varied creatures brought up in the net,” Hand said. Other social events have included an annual Thanksgiving feast and Christmas lights trolley tour complete with Santa and hot chocolate and cookies catered at the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel.
brainREconnect Inc. has also recently funded the participation of 10 survivors with severe aphasia to attend Brooks Rehabilitation Aphasia Center in nearby Jacksonville, Florida. There they received an extensive evaluation and 12 hours per week of therapy following the Life Participation Approach to Aphasia model for seven weeks.
The scholarships also include lunches and transportation for the 160-mile round trip. For a community education event, brainREconnect Inc. rented the historic Ritz Theatre in Brunswick and showed Aphasia, The Movie, a 40-minute film by aphasia survivor Carl McIntyre. McIntyre attended the screening and gave a humorous and inspiring presentation about his process of coming to terms with aphasia and making positive decisions about his new life.
“We are very proud of and inspired by the members in our group, survivors and caregivers alike,” Laidler said. “I think it is really this ‘grassroots effort’ that keeps us going and guides us to think ‘outside the box’ as to what we are able to provide that will best benefit our group. Our members share their successes, their experiences, resources and give of themselves with one another. All the members of our board of directors have firsthand, intimate knowledge of stroke issues, and our goal is to help our families live their best lives after stroke or any type of brain impairment.”
They are able to provide their programs because of the generosity and support of the local philanthropic community through foundations, grants and donations. That was the point of becoming a 501(c)(3), to be able to raise money more easily for their programs. Their volunteer board of directors invests many hours seeking funding, organizing events and coordinating with members.
“We are a family,” Laidler said. “We live it, understand it, and we care. We accept everyone who has experienced or cares about individuals with any type of stroke or brain impairment. We provide social, educational, and help with access to therapy and transportation. Anything that you would want for your own loved one, we attempt to provide to the best of our ability.”