At Cowichan Brain Injury Society (CBIS), “Let’s Connect” is a place where everyone can be themselves. “Let’s Connect” is an innovative post-rehabilitation and community-based peer support initiative. It provides a welcoming environment to connect, contribute and learn. It’s all about Peers teaching Peers. Together they are stronger. Peer supporters listen, provide emotional support, and inspire HOPE. The program emphasizes health and wellness while empowering survivors toward occupation or meaning after injury. The focus is on who we are as people – spirit, mind and body. Survivors come to build friendships, receive support, link up with valuable community resources, and explore life interests.

Brain injuries make no appointments, nor does it matter what age you are, race, ethnicity, gender or care whether you have money. A brain injury will take anyone, anytime of the day or night. They happen suddenly, and within seconds life can change dramatically. Imagine driving on the Malahat, having the RCMP corralling what they think is a drunk driver; only to discover it was June MacCulloch having a stroke while driving. Their first question was “Have you had anything to drink?” An ambulance was summoned immediately and June was taken to Victoria General where she spent 7 weeks for inpatient rehabilitation. She made the news that night on TV and the next day one of the RCMP officers even came to see how she was doing. That instant took away June’s career and her and drivers license. She has learned to appreciate each and every day, because you never know when it can be taken away from you permanently.

Primary causes of acquired brain injury are tumors, trauma, stroke, hypoxia/anoxia, alcohol related & other toxins, infection as well as degenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis & Huntington’s). The brain controls everything we think, feel and do, as well as how we move, what we smell and what we see. Everything about us is controlled by our brain.

Studies show the brain is capable of changing through neuroplasticity; the natural ability of the brain to reorganize and rewire functions over to new, healthy parts of the brain after injury.  New neurons require support from other neurons to survive. More practice and repetition helps to strengthen the connection. Neuroplasticity is nothing without meaningful engagement, focus on specific tasks, and your hard work. There is no quick fix, but what it does mean is that it doesn’t matter if it’s been two months or two decades since your stroke: practice can spark new changes in your brain and improvements in function. Recovery is usually life-long requiring hard work and lots of commitment. It will not be easy and will probably be the hardest thing you will ever do.

CBIS is on a campaign to raise awareness and funds to support community-based brain injury programs for the Cowichan area. We want everyone to know there is LIFE AFTER BRAIN INJURY. After all, if you don’t know a brain injury survivor yourself, then you probably know someone who loves one.

CBIS’s “Let’s Carve” and “Let’s Do Art” programs are peer led by Master Carver Rupert Scow. Rupert Scow was born in 1957 in Alert Bay. The Scow family, known as “The people of the Bear” is Kwicksuitaineuk from the village of Gwayasdums on Gilford Island, and is part of the Bear and Gwayasdym’s crest of the Sisiutl, or double headed sea serpent, are family crests. Rupert comes from a long line of carvers and respected elders, including his great grandfather Mungo Martin and great grandfather Chief Johnny Scow.  This wealth of culture instilled a strong sense of heritage in Rupert and his five brothers, all of whom are exceptional carvers.

Under the guidance of Wayne Alfred, Vince Shaughnessy, and Stephen Bruce, Rupert began carving cedar in 1991, creating masks, rattles, bowls, poles and transformation masks. Having learned the art of woodcarving, Rupert completed the Native Education Center’s jewelry course in 2008, and now volunteers his time teaching First Nations carving at CBIS. The goal of both programs are to decrease anxiety, depression and stress while building friendships and increasing toleration for social interaction. Respect for cultural diversity is an aspect of Canadian society that is of great appeal to people from other countries who want to move here. In BC alone there is an amazing diversity of First Nation culture and language. There are over 200 First Nation communities in the province – each with its own unique culture, traditions and history. Cultural practices, symbols, and belief systems are influenced by each Nation’s unique experience on the land and with each other, and are always connected with the Spirit world. Our peer support program, Let’s Connect, has evolved in its own diverse culture as a result of the shared lived experience of a brain injury in an environment where everyone grieves their loss before starting their journey of hope.

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