African service project empowers kids
in U-M's NeuroRehabilitation program
For children with disabilities there can be few opportunities to reach out and help others. But the Health System's NeuroRehabilitation summer program plans to change that with a three-part service project aimed at empowering kids with disabilities while helping children in Africa.
The service project allows children to maintain an outward focus and gain a sense of self-empowerment, says Elaine Ledwon-Robinson, speech pathologist and director of the program.
The project, which took place June 25 through Aug. 1, included a study skills group that puts together boxes of school supplies for Kijabe Hospital in Kenya, a group of writers that sends letters to the recipients of the packages and that puts out a newspaper about Africa, based on their research.
"Part of the benefit of this project relates to happiness. I think that a lot of the literature shows that social relationships and being able to do things for other people boosts a sense of happiness," Ledwon-Robinson says. "But the other part is that when kids have triumphed over adverse circumstances, they and their families naturally tend to be somewhat inward looking and that's not always the healthiest thing for children."
Ten-year-old Katie Brigger, a program attendee, was diagnosed with Moyamoya disease at age 2 and as a result has suffered neurological damage from several strokes. Katie's mother, Heather, who has participated in previous service projects for children with disabilities, says that Katie never liked attending those programs until she came here.
"Katie actually looks forward to attending and is enthusiastic toward the new service project. I think it's a great idea that helps kids to feel like they are doing something for others. Yet within that, they are getting something out of it themselves," Heather Brigger says. "She loves being with the other kids and working with the therapists and she loves being in the creative writing group. It really helps her with her writing skills and organizing her thoughts."
In addition to the Africa-based service project, the NeuroRehab program offers several other service projects. The Community Planning group has collected donations for the Humane Society and spent an afternoon working at Food Gatherers. A younger group of children that is enrolled in the Garden Club is completing a landscaping project for the Therapeutic Horseback Riding facility, located on Joy Road.
The Pediatric NeuroRehab program has been around for 18 years and caters primarily to children with neurological injury or illness due to accidents and other causes. Participants typically stay in the program 6-9 months while they regain speech and cognitive skills, memory and motor functions.
"I think it's a great way for Katie to gain confidence and have a positive feeling about herself," Brigger says.
To contact the Pediatric NeuroRehabilitation program, call (734) 998-7710 or go to www2.med.umich.edu/pcdv2/clinics/dsp_clinic.cfm?service_id=1204.