empower

A second chance at rehabilitation

By Marchella Verdi
Shoreham-Wading River High School

For the past four years, Stony Brook University has hosted a program for people with spinal cord injures intended to give participants a second chance at rehabilitation.

“I look at this camp as not teaching people how to survive but reminding people or showing them how to live,” said Matthew Bremekamp, a peer mentor who has been living with a spinal cord injury for 15 years. “So they can get back to having a really fulfilling and rewarding life.”

Empower Spinal Cord Injury, the non-profit corporation that operates the program, was designed to provide people who have spinal cord injuries a chance to get the help and encouragement needed to live to their fullest abilities.

President and Co-Founder of Empower SCI Inc, Carinne Callahan, a certified physical therapist, said she was inspired to found the program after working in the field.

“My inspiration for founding the program is that I was working in an impatient rehabilitation hospital and working their insurance tends to cut down the time that someone can go to rehabilitation after a big injury so the time keeps getting shorter and I feel like people are not getting all they need to get back to happy and independent lives,” Callahan said.

Empower SCI, which started in 2009 and became a non-profit organization in 2010, held its first program at Stony Brook in 2012 and has been in action every summer since.

In addition to receiving physical therapy, occupational therapy and group sessions, participants push themselves at activities such as surfing, kayaking and wheelchair rugby.

For the past four years, Stony Brook University has hosted a program for people with spinal cord injures intended to give participants a second chance at rehabilitation.

“We do a lot of fundraising throughout the year to make it happen and make it possible,” Callahan said. “The three founders have really done most of the building of getting all the funds that we need to put this on and it is so worth it.”

Along with the physical aspects of recuperation, this program enables participants to build on the mental aspect of recovery with peer mentoring, rehabilitation counseling and informal knowledge sharing between each other.

“I feel like I found a little bit of myself again because I feel like I was losing a little bit of that and just being around other people going through similar situations helped with that,” participant Casey Ellin said.

Empower SCI offers a wide range of team members that aim at allowing the participants the ability to overcome certain obstacles and rebuild confidence.

“I’ve been able to reach the level of independence, happiness and acceptance with myself as a wheelchair user and that makes me feel great. It makes me feel like a real person and it doesn’t make me feel different about myself and I want others to be able to be happy with their lives despite their spinal cord injuries,” said Brenna Bean, a peer mentor who has been using a wheelchair for five years. “If I can get every single participant here to be as happy with his or her life as I am with my life that would be my ultimate goal.”

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