Every day looks a little different at Thrive Upstate, particularly when it comes to the organization’s Head and Spinal Cord Injury services. From visits to community gardens to partnerships with local food banks, the participants and staff at Thrive Upstate are fully immersed in the community in and around Greenville.
As director of HASCI Services, Kay Brooks is responsible for the program’s overarching vision as well as its day-to-day intricacies and activities. Her mission is simple: to help individuals with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and similar disabilities rebuild their lives with respect and dignity.
“If it were me who had a brain injury,” Brooks often finds herself pondering, “how would I spend my day? What would I need? What would be important?”
These questions are at the heart of Brooks’ programming, which she and her staff facilitate with hands-on zeal, working directly with individuals to help them navigate the realities of living with a brain or spinal cord injury.
The program’s opportunities for community engagement are as unique as they are enriching. Recently, the program paid a visit to the Upcountry History Museum’s exhibit on Andy Warhol’s “Endangered Species” series, providing participants with an opportunity to relate to art as well as practice important skills such as being safe in an unfamiliar environment. These opportunities for community engagement are central to Thrive Upstate’s HASCI program, which focuses on increasing individuals’ capacity for independent living, community participation and employment.
“The individuals we serve at Thrive Upstate have lifelong injuries,” Brooks explained. “We try to encourage people to not give up, to leave no stone unturned.”
Director of the HASCI program since 1998, she has learned to see the profound value and impact of small, gradual change when it comes to the people she serves.
The importance of this persistence rings especially true for a woman Brooks identified as Liz, who had difficulty regulating her emotions after suffering from two strokes as a child. With the support of Thrive Upstate’s Career Preparation staff and a Thrive Upstate job coach, Liz was able to practice navigating life skills such as professionalism and managing emotions.
The process of finding the right job for Liz was “collaborative, and it was a journey,” said Brooks. After trying assembly and production-focused jobs, it was clear that Liz needed a position that would better suit her intelligent and extroverted nature. Now employed as an event staff member at a local facility, Liz is able to thrive in a position that suits her interests and celebrates her interpersonal skills.
The experienced trainers at Thrive Upstate coordinate services and provide recommendations to support a more independent lifestyle for each participant while continuing to promote both physical and mental health. The HASCI services staff also partners with the Brain Injury Association of South Carolina to provide a monthly support group for brain injury survivors and their families.
Respect and dignity are essential principles when it comes to community re-entry, as is intentional accommodation.
“Individuals with disabilities want to participate in the community, just like all of us,” Brooks remarked. “Sometimes they need accommodations, and sometimes those accommodations are fairly simple, like providing a written agenda at a community program or expanding transportation to and from an event.”
“Variety, accommodation and community involvement. That’s where the future is for working with people with disabilities and brain injuries,” Brooks stated, noting that, in the end, “Everybody wants to feel like they are a part of their community.”
By Catherine Kauffmann