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Meet our Clients

Sales of Courage Cards support the services of Courage Center, a nonprofit rehabilitation and resource center that helps children and adults with disabilities reach for their full potential in every aspect of life. Read the stories below to meet some of the clients whose lives have been impacted by Courage Center.

Kira Abrahamson
Kira Abrahamson: Gaining confidence and a career
When Kira Abrahamson first came to Courage Center in the fall of 2012, she had gone through many temporary jobs. She was frustrated and discouraged. Would she ever be able to support herself? "When people keep telling you that you can't do a job," she says, "you begin to wondering what you can do."

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Kira is now making steady progress toward her goal of independence. With help from Courage Center's Work Readiness program and a dedicated vocational team, she learned to identify her strengths and reasonable workplace accommodations. She took a seasonal position in the Courage Cards shop, where she worked in a retail environment under the supervision of vocational evaluation staff. Supported on all sides, she began building her job skills and her self-esteem. Her positive energy brought smiles to customers' faces. "The people at Courage Center had such faith in me," she says. "I learned to trust myself on the job."

Kira has since used her experience and references from Courage Center to obtain a position as a teacher's aide at a Montessori school. "This is one of the challenges I've wanted to have in my life," she says. She loves being involved with the children through playtime, crafts, and reading aloud to them. "I don't know where this job will take me, but I now realize I would love to work with kids with special needs. I feel like this is a good fit."

Norm Coone: Freedom on wheels
If you saw Norm Coone sitting behind his desk at Wells Fargo, a vice president within the Technology and Operations Group, you'd think, "This guy has it all." And you'd be right - almost.

Coleman lost both legs to vascular disease, the first at age 26 and the second at age 31. He's had multiple recurrences of various cancers and lost part of a lung. "Doctors told me a number of times there was nothing more they could do for me," he says. "But I kept going." Once an electrician with a degree in electronics, he lost the physical ability to do that job, so he went back to school and earned a degree in computer programming.

For years, he resisted using a wheelchair. "I used artificial legs as best I could," he says. At 39, when he needed to build stamina and strength to reenter the workforce, he started swimming at Courage Center. "That's where I learned the fun of playing wheelchair basketball and softball," he says. "It was the best attitude adjustment I ever made."

Now 56, Coone has been with Wells Fargo for 15 years, managing people and projects across the country, traveling for work and pleasure. "A wheelchair makes all the difference in the world," he says. He has added mono-skiing and handcycling to the sports he enjoys. He's also involved with Operation Liberty, a Courage Center program that offers adventures to veterans with disabilities. He volunteers with Courage Center and participates in the Courage Center Business Advisory Council.

"Without Courage Center opening doors for me," he says, "my life would be much more difficult. Courage Center has given me freedom: freedom to ride on wheels, to travel, to move without a great deal of pain. That's life-changing."

Norm Coone

Jack Jablonski
Jack Jablonski: Helping others with spinal cord injuries
On December 30, 2011, high school sophomore Jack Jablonski had just scored the opening goal when the unthinkable happened. Skating after a puck, he was checked into the boards by two players from the opposing team. He dropped to the ground and didn't move. Surgery a few days later revealed the truth: Jack had severed his spinal cord and the damage could not be repaired. The injury had left him with quadriplegia.

After months in the hospital and Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, Jack went home. He immediately began outpatient therapy in Courage Center's ABLE (Activity-Based Locomotor Exercise) program. Part of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network, ABLE is a revolutionary program that helps people living with paralysis to improve their health, fitness, strength, and quality of life. "My coordination, strength and muscle mass have all improved since coming to Courage Center," Jack says.

Today, Jack is a senior and captain of his high school hockey team. Like every high school student, he loves sports and hanging out with his friends. "I don't know what to expect in my future," he says, "but I want to continue to get stronger with ABLE and work toward a normal life. My main goal is to get back on my feet. There is still hope."

While Jack stays busy with school, athletics, and therapy, he also takes time to champion two causes close to him: hockey safety and spinal cord injury research. The Jack Jablonski BEL13VE in Miracles Foundation raises funds for scholarships so other people with spinal cord injuries can receive the same therapies that Jack has benefited from. "I would not be where I am today without Courage Center," Jack says. "I am very fortunate to have the ABLE program available to me."

Maci Mauch: Feeling accepted and having fun
Born with spina bifida, living with paraplegia, six-year-old Maci Mauch loved cheering on her soccer-playing big sisters, Morgan and Ashley. "But her dad and I wanted Maci to have her own sport to play," says her mom, Maggie Mauch.

At Courage Center, Maci discovered wheelchair softball. Last summer, at age five, she became the youngest member of the Junior Rolling Twins Softball Team.

"Joining this team has been super for Maci," says her mom. "She's interacting with other kids with disabilities and having so much fun! These kids show each other that they can totally forget about their disabilities and let the fun happen. Imagine the confidence boost that gives them. And we parents get to watch them just being kids."

Before connecting with Courage Center, Maggie feared that her daughter's life would be filled with exclusions and sitting on the sidelines. "Instead, Maci now feels inclusion and acceptance. Courage Center is all about opportunities. Maci was welcomed with open arms into a community of ability, not disability. We've even met Paralympics athletes involved with Courage Center sports programs. How inspiring is that - for any child?"

What does the future hold for Maci? "With one softball season under our belts, we're looking forward to season two," said Maggie. "Our goals are to stay healthy, grow, and learn more independence each day. Programs like this fit our game plan perfectly."

Maci Mauch

Laura Andert
Laura Andert: A job well done
Laura Andert is a people person. She proves it every day in her job at a Panera Bread bakery-café. "I greet guests, help them with seating needs, explain our menu options, make friendly conversation, and do whatever I can to ensure they have a pleasant dining experience," she says.

Andert, who has cerebral palsy, worked hard to get her job, and she wants to keep it. In 2009, her counselor at Minnesota Rehabilitation Services referred her to Courage Center's Supported Employment Services. "Every two weeks, I'd meet with my Supported Employment counselor, Tom Birbeck, at my workplace, and we'd talk about how my job is going. Knowing that Tom was supportive of me and my efforts validated that I really could do this job, and do it well."

While work is important to Andert, so is a balanced life. "I love biking, swimming, and working out. And spending time outside listening to music. Number One is hanging out with family and friends, going to movies, dinner, and shopping."

As for the future, she sees herself gainfully employed in a job she likes, but also traveling and experiencing the world with a husband-to-be.

"I'm thankful I got connected with Courage Center because I'm happy with what I'm doing today. I have met great, supportive friends who help me be the person I want to be. Courage Center is a wonderful resource with connections into our community, and the people there are caring and sincere."

Brenda Bous: A PCA means independence
"We all need oxygen to breathe," says Brenda Bous. "I happen to also need a personal care attendant." Pneumonia during infancy led to cerebral palsy and life in a wheelchair. Today, with help from a PCA, this active, independent woman volunteers at Courage Center and other organizations, where her skills and positive attitude are in demand.
Brenda Bous

Susan Fink
Susan Fink: From swimming to sailing
Courage Cards artist Susan Fink ran marathons and taught kindergarten before a skiing accident in 1999 severely injured her spinal cord. She became a client at Courage Center in 2000.

I started using Courage Center to regain physical strength and balance by working in the warm-water therapy pool. Each new skill I needed was first attained in the pool. Not only did my walking improve, but equally as important, I began connecting with other people with disabilities and found friendship and moral support.

Later, I used the driver's assessment and training program to learn to drive with hand controls. Regaining freedom and independence in getting around was huge.

Today, I continue to do therapeutic exercise three times a week in the pool. With the help of physical therapists, I have developed a series of exercises to do in the fitness center using machines that are accessible in my power chair. I've taken tai chi and adaptive yoga classes as well.

My body is always changing, requiring readjustments to live with less pain. Resources are always available at Courage Center to help in my journey. Courage Center focuses on what I can do. One activity that really lifts my spirit and brings me joy is the sailing program. I've learned to independently sail a small, specially fitted boat. Just sitting on the dock at Lake Harriet on a beautiful summer evening, sharing the experience with others, is for me a major benefit of the program.

Todd Fultz: Determined to walk again
A head-on collision in 2008 left Todd Fultz with devastating injuries: broken back, pelvis, hips, legs, and ankles, internal injuries, bleeding in his brain. After multiple 10-hour surgeries and months of physical therapy at home, he still was unable to put any pressure on his legs.

Fultz is an athlete. An all-state wide receiver in high school and a college MVP, he's used to getting up after being knocked down. Determined to walk again, he went to Courage Center St. Croix.

"Courage Center's warm-water pool is the Fountain of Youth for those of us who face challenges," he says. "It gives us a glimpse of the possible. My therapist helped me from my chair into the deep water and told me I'd be able to stand. I was skeptical, but I did stand!"

In Courage Center's gym, Fultz worked the parallel bars, at first suspended in a harness to remind his body what walking feels like. Over time, he transferred more of his weight from the harness to the bars, then a walker, then two canes. "A year after my accident, I was walking. Not quickly, and not on uneven surfaces, but without help."

Today Fultz is back to work at his roofing company, coaching touch football with his 6-year-old son, and enjoying his family. He can't imagine what his life would be like if he hadn't found Courage Center. "It's essential in all aspects of recovery - emotional and physical. It's a wonderful place."

Todd Fultz

Connor Harthorn
Connor Harthorn: Sweet on camping
Connor Harthorn has moderate cerebral palsy; his father, David, has multiple sclerosis. So far, Connor and his family have attended Courage Center's Family Camp three times. Plus Connor has gone on his own to Sports Camp, Outdoor Leadership Camp, Power Soccer Camp, and MS Youth Camp. In Connor's words, "Camp is totally sweet!"

Lindsay Heimkes: Getting stronger with ABLE
In the summer of 2006, Lindsay Heimkes was looking forward to her sophomore year at Sheridan College in Wyoming. A member of the school's basketball team, she was tall, strong, healthy, and active - until a devastating car crash on July 12 left her paralyzed. A quadriplegic.

In 2009, back home in Minnesota, Lindsay heard about a program at Courage Center called ABLE, for Activity-Based Locomotor Exercise. Part of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network, ABLE is a new approach to an old truth: that exercise is good for everyone, even people living with paralysis. Most participants experience improvements in health, fitness, strength, and quality of life.

At first, Lindsay's goals with ABLE were simple: to stabilize her health and improve her core strength. But after three months of customized workouts, she took her first steps with a walker. For people with spinal cord injury, being upright again and walking, even with help, are amazing feats.

"I've definitely gotten a lot stronger," Lindsay says. "I look a lot healthier. I have more core strength so I don't tip over when I reach for things or use my computer.

"ABLE gives me hope and encouragement. Years post-injury, I have had significant changes. It shows that you should never give up. And it doesn't feel like therapy because we're always having fun. You can tell Courage Center employees really care."

Lindsay Heimkes

Tom Isaacson
Tom Isaacson: Chronic pain meets a positive attitude
When a tumor, surgeries, and degenerative disc disease left Tom Isaacson with chronic pain, he became dependent on painkillers - powerful narcotics. He turned to the Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program at Courage Center. Today he has coping skills, a support system, and a new goal: walking a half-marathon with his daughter.

Mara LeRoy: Learning life skills
Five-year-old Mara LeRoy has blonde curls, a winning smile, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy. "We connected with Courage Center when Mara was nine months old by taking a Waterbabies swimming class," says mom Kathie. Dad Paul adds, "Waterbabies classes are for kids of all abilities. That's the real world, and we know Mara will live in the real world."

Soon, Mara began physical and occupational therapies at Courage Center. To help Mara transition from Waterbabies to land-based physical therapy, her therapist held the first few PT sessions partly in the pool and partly out. "It worked!" Kathie says. Mara was able to build her sitting and posture skills.

In OT, Mara learned how to drink from a straw and from an adapted water bottle - skills she needs to keep herself hydrated.

Speech therapy was next. To communicate at school, Mara would need to use a speech-generation device. She tried touch screens, head-pointing systems, and eye-gaze systems. None worked. At the same time, she was learning to navigate a power wheelchair by using a head array. Her speech therapist realized that Mara could use a similar head control to operate her speech device.

Today, Mara attends preschool with kids of all abilities. Courage Center therapists regularly consult with her teachers and the specialists who work with her. "We're all excited about Mara's successes," Paul says. "Our job is to keep up with all that Courage Center has to offer, and all that Mara can accomplish - which is a lot."

Mara LeRoy

Brendan Loney
Brendan Loney: "Courage Center is my gym"
Athlete Brendan Loney played college hockey until a diving accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. For a time, he received physical therapy at home, but he was itching to get back into a gym. Today he works out at Courage Center, strengthening his muscles, rewiring his nerves - and building relationships.

Mike Melendez: Learning behavior skills
Four years ago, when Mike was nine, he sustained a brain injury in a car accident. Returning to school, he was enrolled in special education classes. Soon Mike started having behavior problems. His mom, Leilani, contacted Courage Center's Behavioral Health Program.

Behavior analyst Jennifer Kempenich and behavior professional Sara Nuahn are Mike's team at Courage Center. Together, they develop strategies to help Mike. "He's been making good strides toward better interactions with peers and better frustration tolerance," Leilani says. "He's taking more responsibility for his actions."

One successful strategy has been the use of logic, supported by rewards and consequences. "After the accident, we had to restrict Mike's actions for safety reasons," Leilani says. "We couldn't let him go skateboarding so he wouldn't fall and injure himself. Before, he would just get frustrated. But when we explained the reasons and followed up with a reward - encouraging him to play a video game - he could redirect his frustration to something positive."

Mike is now mainstreamed in three classes at school. "I keep telling him to think big," Leilani says. "I ask him, 'Do you like video games? Think about developing them, not just playing them. Think about college.' "

Mike is happy with his Courage Center experience. "The people there help me with a lot of stuff," he says. "Like how to be a better person and deal with what happened to me."

Mike Melendez

Lance Philipp
Lance Philipp: Dealing with limitations
For most of his 33 years, Lance Philipp has been involved with Courage Center. Born with cerebral palsy, he attended a preschool program at age 4. He has taken part in several sports programs: power soccer, wheelchair basketball, archery, downhill skiing, waterskiing, karate, and curling. He attended Courage Center Camps and used the Transitional Rehabilitation Program as he moved into adulthood.

Lance earned his college degree as a computer support specialist, then became proficient in speech-recognition software. He volunteers at Courage Center's Assistive Technology Lab, teaching these skills to others.

Meanwhile, finding employment that offers a livable salary and healthcare benefits has been elusive. "Medical Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, and the Community Alternatives for Disabled Individuals Waiver allow me to live as independently as I can," Lance says. "I am extremely thankful for these programs. However, the spend-down and payback requirements often act as disincentives to work. I'd much rather earn a living wage and cover my own expenses and needs."

Funding of fitness programs for people with disabilities has been greatly reduced in recent years. Lance used to work out at Courage Center three times a week. Cuts have reduced his fitness sessions to one a week and require out-of-pocket payments.

"I know my capabilities," Lance says. "And sometimes the limitations I deal with from the outside are greater than my own."

Zoe: A bright future
All seven-year-old Zoe wants to do is play with her friends - and walk. Cerebral palsy and seizures make walking a challenge for her, but she has been getting the help she needs from the start. When Zoe was just 20 months old, her parents, Stan and Jodi, took her to Courage Center for physical therapy. In time, Zoe was able to walk with a walker.

In 2010, the Greens came back to Courage Center for the Intensive Therapy program. "Our goal was to help Zoe gain enough core strength to stabilize her movements and allow her to walk with a smoother, more stabilized gait," Jodi says.

Zoe and her Intensive Therapy team worked three hours each day, five days a week, for three weeks. "Zoe learned to use walking sticks," her mom says proudly. "Now she's starting to practice walking with just one stick."

Improved ambulatory freedom - unassisted walking - is important to this little dynamo, who loves playing house, dolls, and school with her friends and has an active imagination. Thanks to therapy, Zoe's future looks bright. "Therapy has enabled Zoe to gain the strength she needs to participate in activities and lead a full life," Jodi says. "Down the road, I envision Zoe progressing, walking stably with a single walking stick, flourishing in all she does."
Zoe Green