Giving Back

On a sunny spring day in 2011, I spent a full morning and part of an afternoon driving Andrea from sandwich shops to coffee houses to pizza joints in Denver as she applied for part-time jobs.

Life was on the upswing. She was in the midst of a 4.0 college semester and was moving into her first apartment, a one-bedroom that she would fill with furniture handed down from her mom as well as from Nancy and me and that she would decorated adorably — with, of course, darkened bedroom windows. Now, Andrea wanted to earn bucks as she also devoted a few hours each week to a single summer college class: math. She was 20.

The world was entirely in front of her.

Sitting in the passenger seat of my Jeep, she carried a pen and a printout of the 10-15 openings she’d spotted in an on-line search. In my head, I mapped out our route from west to east, with a stop for lunch at one of those potential employers, Einstein Bros Bagels. Our happy meal there  feels like two weeks ago — and also like 20 years ago. We returned to the streets after eating, and she crossed off the rest of the names after running into each place for quick visits and application filings.

Recently, she’s been looking again.

As Andrea has continued to work daily and doggedly on re-sharpening her thinking, (thank you Lumosity), her therapy team at Craig Hospital decided the day had dawned for Andrea to add some volunteer time to her schedule. The idea is that such work will further stimulate new neural pathways and help Andrea re-learn the rigors of keeping responsibilities, managing time, remembering and completing tasks. The Craig team explained that volunteer work now also will help Andrea prepare to eventually meet one of her Big Three goals: returning to college.

A quick update on goals No. 2 — living independently — and No. 3 —  walking. She and we and Andrea’s helpers (Avy and Elizabeth) work on those major milestones daily. We’ve also hired a former Craig physical therapist, Rich, to spend time with Andrea twice a week at our houses to chip away at those goals. Rich was recommended by Andrea’s Craig doctor as the very best in Denver. As to independence, we don’t yet know the exact timeline to achieve that. But she and we see all clear progress. We see lots of little boxes being checked. As for goal No. 3, Andrea already is technically walking — each day, using her walker or her “gaitbelt” to traverse our homes. The walker has primarily become a training tool to help Andrea perfect her balance, her stride rhythm, and her steps, to better use her hips, knees and feet. She’s far stronger and far more steady on her toes than she was just a few months ago. She wants so badly to walk — without any assistance — and do it right now, and she confides this to us once in a while. My reply is always the same: Look at the steps just ahead of you; don’t look at the top of the mountain quite yet; but before you know it, you’ll be standing way up there. Reaching that mountaintop has been and remains a lengthy journey. And all who are close to Andrea can see how many miles she’s come  — from the days one year ago when she needed a mechanical hoist to rise from her bed to the mornings now when she simply stands up and out of her bed without help, and steps confidentially and beautifully through the house on her walker. As for goal No. 3, we don’t know the exact timeline either. But that time will come. That mountain top looks a bit closer each day.

In the meantime, there is volunteering to be done — along with Andrea’s twice weekly trips to the gym for personal training and her beloved yoga sessions.

The search for a job began with that green light from the Craig team and then a decision: Andrea opted to work, for now, with animals. Specifically, dogs. She went online to research dog-related agencies that take volunteers. She emailed several, including MaxFund, a no-kill shelter in Denver.

This was Andrea’s email to MaxFund, sent Tuesday :

“Hey there,

My name is Andrea Briggs, and I’m interested in becoming a volunteer for your organization. I enjoy working with all types of animals, and doing any tasks that your organization would need done.  Currently, I am recovering from a car accident in which I got a traumatic brain injury. In the process of my recovery, I am working with Craig Hospital’s “Community Re-Integration” program in hopes to become a volunteer. At the present time, my main form of transportation is a wheelchair and I have caregivers to help me with minor tasks that I am not able to do independently yet. If you could please email me some more information on how to become a volunteer for your organization, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you so much for your time and have a great day!

Andrea Briggs”

This was the response she received today:

“Hi Andrea,

I am Karen Sessions, the volunteer coordinator here at MaxFund. First I applaud you on your recovery. I am sure we can help you with your recovery. Right now, the only thing I ask is that you come in and fill out an application and I can get a handle on what we could do for each other! (I have a medical background so you don’t have to “dummy” things down for me.) We are open everyday except Tuesday. My day off is Wednesday. So any other day to come in would be fine. We are open at 11 and we close at 4pm. Does this sound like something you can do?


When the email arrived, Nancy called me up from my basement office and said Andrea had some great news. As we read the email together, Andrea beamed. The house filled with cheers.

As milestones go, this is a big one. But even more, Andrea will be devoting part of herself to something beyond her own comeback — as critical as that recovery is to all of us. Life, we’ve truly learned, is about giving. Andrea has received more love, more warmth, and more prayers than she can ever know, and some that she can never remember.

Soon, she will be giving back some of that love and warmth to some special animals in need.

The world is entirely in front of her.






One comment

  1. So excited for her! She will be great working with the animals. So amazed by her everyday and how far she has come. Thanks for the update Bill. -Carly

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