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The Long Road Home
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After each member has had a chance to express him or herself at the morning meeting, the group disperses throughout the Community Campus. A few go upstairs to practice computer skills or hang out around the pool table, laughing and critiquing each other's abilities in "structured games." Others head to the greenhouse or to the Head Start classroom to read stories to the children. Some volunteer to do office work for Steppingstones or other Community Campus programs, while publications group members meet to discuss the next Steppingstones newsletter.

Heather Goodwin '01,  right,
Students from UNH's occupational therapy department, like Heather Goodwin '01, above, right, are a key element in the program.

"Being at the Community Campus is a huge gift, because we're not isolated and we get to interact with all the other people and programs here," Krempels notes. The campus, which includes classrooms and other facilities used by a variety of community-service organizations, opened in 1999 under the auspices of the Foundation for Seacoast Health. Seven programs are headquartered here: Families First, the Community Child Care Center; the Portsmouth Head Start Center; the Portsmouth Early Education Program, New Heights, which provides activities for adolescents in grades 6-12 during out-of-school hours; Info Link; and the Family Harbor, which works to investigate and prevent child abuse. "The relationships with kids are vital," Krempels observes, "because they're not afraid to ask 'What happened to you?' That's a question it's important for us to be able to answer."

Taking advantage of the Community Campus kitchen, half a dozen Steppingstones members have chosen to spend part of their morning "Cooking with Alice and Robert." The countertops and island cutting board are a swirl of activity as they prepare lunch for the rest of the members.

The "Robert" of the cooking-instruction team is a Steppingstones member who was a chef before his injury, and "Alice" is Alice Seidel, a UNH professor of occupational therapy. She directs the 15 students currently working at Steppingstones. Without them, the program would be much more limited, Fagner says.

Seidel, busy helping members prepare salad, observes that the Steppingstones experience is as important to the students as they are to the program. "There is nothing like this anywhere else," she says. "Here you see people with disabilities going about ordinary activities in a very healthy environment. Students get to see that people with brain injuries are not sick people, but normal people who have suffered an injury."

Bill Bonin '57 and Doug
Bill Bonin '57 and assistant professor Doug Simmons.

UNH senior Adrienne Smith is helping a Steppingstones member who is patiently pouring batter into a muffin tin. She explains that this is the kind of retraining many members need in order to become more independent. "So much of occupational therapy depends on the individual," she says. "It's really rewarding to be working with people who are working so hard themselves to overcome barriers."

Across the kitchen, Tina Monroe '01 is helping with dessert. "You can sit in a classroom all week talking about working with head-injured people," she says as she rummages in a drawer in search of utensils. "But the truth is, until you've worked like this, you're not a real occupational therapist."

David Krempels frequently drops by at Steppingstones. He's delighted with the way his vision has taken shape. He can tell the program helps people, he says, because "I see people smile and laugh. A couple of people who came when we first opened broke my heart. Their lives were gone, shattered, their families and careers lost. But after a few weeks here, they were smiling and laughing and making friends and feeling like they were worth something. What matters, I think, is that people feel like people and have a reason to get out of bed in the morning, just like everybody else. That's a big deal to me." ~

Bill Burtis is a free-lance writer in Lee, N.H.

For more information about Krempels Foundation grants, please contact: Lisa Hanson, grants program director, The Krempels Foundation, 100 Campus Drive, Portsmouth, NH 03802, phone: (603) 433-9821, e-mail: admin@krempelsfoundation.org. The foundation's Web site address is http://www. braininjurysupport.org/index.html.


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