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Help That Goes in Both Directions
By Sam Hooper Samuels

A recent graduate of the UNH master's program in occupational therapy, Jamie Friedman '04, '05G went over to SteppingStones several times a week last spring. She thought she might be able to be useful at the Portsmouth, N.H., program for brain-injured people founded by David Krempels '73 five years ago

Instead, she discovered it worked the other way around. "I learned so much from the members and from their experience," Friedman says. "Everyone says, 'You interns are helping them so much.' They're the ones helping us."

Krempels, who suffered a brain injury himself in a horrific 1992 automobile accident that took the life of his new bride, used the money from a civil suit award to establish the Krempels Brain Injury Foundation. Later, he opened SteppingStones to support people who have also suffered brain injuries.

Last year, 80 UNH students from six majors volunteered at SteppingStones, gaining academic credit and professional experience. They performed about 4,300 hours of service there, leading members in activities like gardening, reading, computer skills and memory exercises. It's proved to be a win-win arrangement.

"The students are getting practical, hands-on experience," says Erika Mantz, assistant director of UNH Media Relations, who also volunteers. "They get incredible opportunities that they wouldn't necessarily get at a big hospital. They're running group sessions. Strategizing with members about ways to do things differently or better."

Senior Courtney Crowley works with a cooking group in which the members plan a three-course meal and then return the following week to cook a feast for the whole community.

"One of the members, Robert, was a chef before his injury," Crowley says. "He teaches me things in the kitchen, what needs to be sautéed, what gets added when."

"Robert" is Robert Boutin. When arteriovenous malformation struck, he lost his health-food business and found himself in a wheelchair unable to speak more than a few words. Today, the syntax of his speech is sometimes jumbled, but his ideas come through crystal clear.

At SteppingStones, Boutin started a gardening program that includes a greenhouse and an outdoor garden bed that's raised to wheelchair height. He has also nearly completed UNH Cooperative Extension's master gardening certificate.

Boutin occasionally runs into interns who have graduated. "It's nice to see them and how SteppingStones helped them in the past," he says. "While they were here, they watched, and now they use that part of SteppingStones in them, and it helps them. So it's a good learning tool. Because one thing will come back threefold of what you never dreamed that you can get."

Well said.

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