Neil Henderson – A Helping Hand in the Community and the Forest

Submitted by Janelle Breese Biagioni, The Cridge Centre Brain Injury Services.

Neil Henderson has been a contractor in the Cridge Brain Injury Services for approximately four years. He came to us with a passion for serving and helping those, who live with the outcome of a brain injury. He didn’t choose this as being something he just thought would be rewarding – he chose it because he understood it in a way that most others wouldn’t. Neil suffered a brain injury at nine years old when he was hit by a car while riding a bike. Neil knows firsthand the struggles a survivor faces when working to recover from what can be a devastating and often, lifelong challenge.

As a Community Support Worker, Neil works with our most complex clients. These clients have all suffered a brain injury. Some struggle with the additional challenges of mental health issues and/or addictions. Some are involved in the criminal justice system and require support to ensure they meet conditions in the community. All of them benefit from having a worker who is focussed on building strategies and coping mechanisms to help them move life forward in the most meaningful way possible. Neil can meet these needs by quickly building trust with our clients and meeting them “where they are at in life” with a sense of commitment, understanding, and acceptance. The clients we serve in the community thrive under Neil’s care.

Earlier this year, Neil was honoured at the VIHA Heart of Victoria Awards as the first non-VIHA worker for his dedication and passion to his work with vulnerable and complex adults in the community, who live with a variety of challenges such as addiction, homelessness and involvement with the criminal justice system.

This summer, Neil stepped up to offer his services and was deployed to Burns Lake as to assist in saving our province from the devastating wildfires with BC Wildfire Services.

To learn more about Brain Injury Services click here.

Having Fun TOGETHER Matters

By Gyneth Turner, Respite & Respitality Services

Somewhere along the line, our family stopped having fun together because it was very hard to actually have fun. Outings always seemed to end up in disappointment, tears, and tantrums. Picnic at the beach? Pass. Family birthday dinner? Sorry, we are “busy.” Check out the cool new exhibit at the museum? Yah, no.

Our oldest son has an Autism diagnosis, and my husband and I are fully committed to devoting the time, resources, and patience he needs to live his best life; we wouldn’t have it any other way. To do that we both realized that we needed a break from caregiving pretty early in our parenting journey. We did date nights twice a month, and we each took a day for ourselves once a month.  But fun together as a family seemed out of our reach. All of our attempts to do fun stuff as a family was just too much work and not much fun. All this changed after I went to a respite workshop with a friend in Seattle. The workshop leader asked us to look at respite in a new way. She challenged us to see respite not just as time away from the person we cared for, but time with them without the caregiving. She asked us to use our imaginations:

I wondered, what would it be like to go to a family dinner and not have to leave early because we pushed the envelope too hard and Evan was DONE and having a melt-down and Alex was in tears over leaving before birthday cake and presents? What would it be like to go to the Fall Fair and see both kids get to enjoy the day in the way that worked for them? What would it be like to pack a picnic, get kids ready, enjoy the day and get home all without becoming so exhausted and stressed that I wanted to cry?

I realized I was envious of families who have fun together. To me, a family who had fun together was a family who was thriving, and I saw our family as just surviving. Then the workshop leader challenged us to brainstorm how we could make our dream vision of respite possible.

Today, respite looks a lot different for our family. My husband and I still take time as a couple, and we schedule in some alone time now and then. But we both agree the best “rest” we get is fun together with our kids. We have a respite care provider, Karen, who helps us with the preparations, so we aren’t done before we’ve begun. Karen comes to family parties and helps our son manage the busy, loud environment, and if need be, takes him home early allowing us to stay longer if we want to. Last month we went to the Fall Fair, and Karen made getting ready and out of the house a breeze. We looked at the animals together, then Karen and Evan went home for a few hours of quiet time while we did the midway rides with Alex. Karen and Evan came back for dinner and some music in the evening. It was such a great day for all of us – we had FUN TOGETHER!

To learn more about Respite Services and ways to support the program click here.

The Joy of Nature

Submitted by Tanya Kuhn, Nature Preschool Teacher

I have worked with children with special needs for over fifteen years. I have worked in traditional classrooms, Reggio Emilia classrooms, in the schools from kindergarten to grade twelve, and in daycare. Five years ago, The Cridge Centre for the Family’s Preschool program transitioned from a traditional indoor program to a nature-based one. I will admit that I was skeptical regarding what this transition would mean for the children with diverse abilities that I work with.

This is what I have discovered. In Nature Preschool we have taken the idea of play-based learning to the extreme. We believe in long periods of free and uninterrupted exploration. It allows the children with diverse abilities take the time they need to work on the skills that they find difficult while engaging with their friends and enjoying the play. I had one student that was working diligently on his fine motor skills. In his intervention program, he would be working with a crayon and paper but very much disliked the activity. In Nature Preschool, he sought out opportunities to colour and paint on vertical surfaces, namely the sides of rocks and decorating trees. Same skill — a different level of enjoyment. Another child worked with his physiotherapist to learn how to walk up and down the stairs, whereas at Nature Preschool this child developed core muscle strength by regularly walking up and down large rocks.

Lastly, I believe the most important things that happen in Nature Preschool are the friendships. When children are enjoying fresh air and sunshine, exploring the world in a way that is meeting their individual needs their social interactions are effortless. Kids talk more when they are moving. They cooperate when they have to accomplish difficult tasks. I see so many more friendships develop while working in Nature Preschool compared to any other class I have worked in before. The children treat each other as equals. Differences in abilities disappear. It is heart-warming!

To learn more about The Cridge Nature Preschool

Go Play Outside!

My Respitality Night

By Gyneth Turner, Respite and Respitality Coordinator

My overnight bag is packed; I hope I remembered to pack at least a spare pair of undies and my book. I can always grab a toothbrush from hotel housekeeping, right? I send a quick text to the babysitter to check her ETA. I am counting the minutes now…

I wanted to check-in early, but my son’s inhalers are suddenly MIA – missing in action. There is no way I can leave him with a babysitter overnight and not have at least two on hand. So maybe the hotel will offer a late check-out? I make the required trip to the pharmacy.

The list of necessary reminders is on the fridge, I have also texted the list to Amanda, but the handwritten one on the fridge is the back-up in case her phone battery dies. I’m all about the back-up, I have Plan B’s for everything. The list is next to the list of primary phone numbers for her to call if she needs help, but mine is the one at the top, and to be honest, I want her to call me first. I must be there if my son has a problem. There is a good chance that I will get called and need to come home.

John’s dinner is in the fridge, along with snacks, breakfast, and tomorrow’s lunch. I know that Amanda could prepare it for him, but I just have not had the time to show her how, so I did it last night at around midnight. John has so many life-threatening allergies and food aversions that crafting the meals he needs is time-consuming and challenging. He has a gruelling surgery in three weeks, and it is important that he does not lose any more weight.

I am so pleased that John is crazy about Amanda! For the first time since his 6 month stint at Vancouver Children’s Hospital 2 years ago, he is ok with being away from me overnight. Being a single parent means that I am always “on duty.” Being John’s single parent means I am responsible for keeping him alive. It sounds dramatic, and of course, all parents are responsible for keeping their kids alive. For John and I the difference is that his allergies could kill him, an asthma attack could kill him, a seizure could kill him. He needs constant vigilance, medications & interventions to prevent his death – 24/7.

A soft knock at the door and Yay! Amanda has arrived! John looks at me, and we communicate without words, I kiss his forehead, “love you,” I say. Ten minutes of chat with Amanda later and I am in my car.

My Night Out

No phone call comes from Amanda.

I sip red wine in a bubble bath, I watch a movie, I remembered my toothbrush, I read my book. Best of all, I sleep all night with no interruptions in a king size bed with fresh sheets. I open my gift basket and play solitaire with a deck of cards, I eat one of the Rogers’ Chocolates – maple nut. I sleep in and order room service breakfast; they even put a rose on the little service table. I read some more, I call home, everything is fine they tell me, they are having fun, don’t rush home. I check-out early in the afternoon and drive home, stopping for gas and groceries. I plan to make a favourite of John’s for dinner, it’s one of my favourites too.

It was only one night, but I feel refreshed and ready to face another day… week … month of caregiving for my precious son.

To learn more about the Cridge Respitality program and ways to help visit

 Heart Attacks at Cridge Transition House

Written by Marlene Goley.

Kathy is a wise and creative social work student who did her 4th-year practicum at Cridge Transition House for Women. She observed all the residents working hard to get housing applications done, applying for income assistance, dealing with lawyers and the legal system, and doing the millions of other tasks needed to launch a new life free of violence.  Kathy observed how hard staff were working to keep everyones’ To Do List updated and being immersed in all the busyness.  With her fresh perspective, she also saw what was missing – taking a little time to appreciate and encourage each other.  That’s when the Heart Attacks started.

Each week, Kathy cut out paper hearts and chose which resident most needed a Heart Attack. Then she handed out the paper hearts to all the other residents and staff and asked us to write a little note of encouragement or appreciation on our hearts.  She gathered them all up and then taped them to the recipient’s bedroom door. Each recipient was delighted to see her door covered in hearts and read all the uplifting and encouraging messages.  The hearts remained on the door until the resident left, taking her hearts with her.

Kathy successfully completed her practicum in early July.  Responsibility for the Heart Attacks has been eagerly taken on by one of our amazing volunteers.  We are so grateful to Kathy for all she did during her practicum, not the least of which was reminding us how important it is to take a moment to appreciate each other.

Some heart attacks do not require our CPR skills – just a bit of construction paper and a few kind words.

Learn more about the Cridge Transition House for Women.

A Recipe for Recovery

Submitted by Janelle Breese Biagioni

Although Matthew Jack looks serious in this photo, his smile will light up a room. Matt began working in the kitchen at The Cridge Centre for the Family in February 2018. His journey to get here was challenging.
On September 30, 2008, Matt was walking to work at the Embassy Inn. It was only his third day on the job as a cook. Prior to this job, Matt had worked as a Sous Chef at the Sticky Wicket for 9.5 years. While walking, Matt suddenly suffered a generalized tonic-clonic seizure and fell to the curb, hitting the back of his head. The hit to Matt’s head resulted in an epidural hematoma (collection of blood that puts pressure on the brain). Matt underwent surgery that day to remove the hematoma. On October 1st, Matt underwent a second craniotomy because of oozing and blood collecting again.
The road to recovery was long. Matt was in a coma for three weeks. When he woke up, his mom was there, and it was the week before his birthday. Although Matt was in and out of consciousness, he recognized the ICU and remembered thinking he was back in “the fishbowl”. At 5 years of age, Matt underwent surgery to treat an abnormal connection between the esophagus and the trachea called a tracheoesophageal fistula. Matt suffered many bouts of pneumonia growing up, so hospital stays in the ICU were not unfamiliar to him.
Over the next three months, Matt worked hard to recover. He suffered from short-term memory, attention, and concentration issues. His balance was impaired, and he struggled with fatigue and word-finding. On Christmas Eve in 2008, Matt was discharged and went home to his family.
Matt’s family is a very close and loving group. He is one of 9 children. Matt’s brother stepped in and found Matt a new place to live which is close to Victoria General Hospital. He and his cat still live in this unit. Matt’s brother lives close by, so he gets to help with his nieces and nephews and help with chores like cutting the grass for his brother and sister-in-law.
Matt knew he wanted to return to cooking. Leonard Regan from Infocus Rehabilitation Services was working with Matt and knew of the Kale King project at the Cridge. With the blessing of Chef Nik, survivors in the Cridge Brain Injury Services adapted Chef Nik’s much-loved Flourless Chocolate Fudge Cookies to include kale to sell at outdoor markets. Leonard made the introduction and Matt joined the team. Not only did Matt become a star baker for the team, he went on to help prepare, cook and serve meals in the Breakfast and Lunch Programs for the Cridge Daycare and Pacific Christian School.
When asked what attracted him to cooking, Matt replied, “I knew since Grade 5 that I wanted to be a cook. At school, we had to do a project that showed what we wanted to do when we left school. I joined in with a group to make chocolate chip cookies. I think I wanted to be in the group because of the number of girls (insert impish grin) but it also sounded like fun. When I came home from school that day, I told my mom that I wanted to bake cookies for the rest of my life. My mom says I was always in the kitchen after that.”
Although our cookie and food program team were sad to see Matt move on, everyone knew Matt could do more and if he stayed where he was, he wouldn’t reach his maximum potential. When a job as the cook came up in the Cridge kitchen, Matt jumped at the chance to apply.
“I love working at the Cridge. I get to do a lot of different things: cooking, baking, and organizing. I also get to be creative and have input. For example, if my duties for the day are making the vegetables, I can prep and cook them any way that I want. I like that.”
Matt sees himself staying with the Cridge for a long time; however, he holds a dream very close to his heart. Matt would like to open his own place and call it Think Café. His menu will be designed to provide the best nutritional sources of fuel for a person’s brain!

I Want To Be a Rocket Ship

Submitted by Marlene Goley, the Manager of Cridge Transition House and Outreach Services.

A woman at Cridge Transition House for Women told a story about when she was a little girl she would tell anyone that asked, that she wanted to be a rocket ship. At first, she was not deterred by adults telling her how impossible this was. But as she grew up, she did abandon her dream as the realities of a difficult childhood and then an emotionally precarious marriage consumed her.
When she came to Cridge Transition House, she was afraid and hopeless. After a few weeks of feeling safe and supported, the memory of wanting to be a rocket ship came back to her. She excitedly reclaimed that powerful feeling of zooming to the stars. For the first time in a long time, she felt in control of her life. She started making plans to go back to school and imagining what her life could become. In her words, she found her “muchness”.
Being a rocket ship can have some setbacks but this amazing woman showed us how it’s done!

Toni’s new life in the kitchen

Story by Dale Breese.

Toni came in today to pick up her paycheque.  She was a client that Cridge Brain Injury Services supported over a year ago. She told me how much she is loving the cooking program with us. She is doing the hot lunches in the school and will be moving over to the markets this summer.  When Toni wakes up each morning, the first thing she thinks about is cooking. She is loving every day!

The most amazing part about this story is that when I met her, her #1 goal was to start cooking meals. She had never cooked a meal since her stroke. She had lost her sense of smell and experienced double vision and was too afraid to cook in case she couldn’t smell it burning or she left the oven on. Now, Toni wakes up thinking about cooking every day. We are so proud of her!

A Life Redesigned

When Mike finally got his pink slip at work, he wasn’t surprised but he was devastated.  He knew that he wasn’t able to do his job properly since his car accident 10 months ago. He knew his time there was coming to an end, however, it didn’t make the blow any easier to take. That was what his last few months had been like – one blow after another. His job was just the last in a long line of losses: his wife and kids, his home, his friends… everything was lost. He knew that he had changed after the accident – he just couldn’t manage things like he used to and it was so frustrating. So scary. So confusing. Mike sat at the bus stop and tried to figure out what he was going to do next – how would he survive? Who would help him get his life back?

The answer is simple: The Cridge Centre.

Mike’s brain injury is unique to him, and yet his story is common. Survivors of brain injury suffer from a physical injury that often results in a string of losses: home, relationships, employment, and sense of self. These losses can result in mental health issues, poverty, addiction and criminal behaviour. Unless Mike receives some support, he will likely end up on the streets, as another homeless person.

The Cridge Brain Injury Services has been supporting survivors of brain injury for the past 25 years, preventing homelessness one life at a time. We provide housing, support, community engagement and the opportunity for retraining and employment.

Your support provides survivors of brain injury with the opportunity to re-engage in their lives and community, to be healthy and productive members of our city and to find dignity and respect.