Many of United Spinal’s 40-plus chapters started as independent organizations before affiliating, but the Louisiana chapter has its origins separate from many of its sister chapters.
The Louisiana chapter started in 2004 as the Brain Injury Association of Louisiana, aiming to serve the state’s community of people with brain injuries, their family members and care providers. Last year, recognizing the overlap in communities and needs, BIALA joined up with United Spinal.
“It has been wonderful for our organization because it allows us to help more individuals in our state,” says Kimberly Hill, the chapter’s director of outreach and resources.
Hill is one half of the chapter’s new leadership team. Instead of having an executive director, the New Orleans-based chapter switched to employing two part-time directors earlier this year. Hill handles most of the day-to-day operations while her co-director, Kathleen Mulvihill, oversees development and fundraising. Both are uniquely suited for their positions. Mulvihill brings a long track record of advocacy and fundraising for nonprofits, while Hill’s personal and professional lives both seem to have prepared her for this role.
Hill is a recreational therapist and a certified cognitive therapist with a long history working with brain injuries. On top of that, a family member sustained a brain injury, and her son had a spinal cord injury two years ago. Both have enjoyed what Hill deemed “miraculous” recoveries, but the traumatic personal experiences gave her added insight that she now uses daily.
“Because of everything, I bring an understanding of the therapy side of working with brain and spinal cord injuries and also an understanding of the caregiving side,” she says. “Obviously, I don’t understand what each person is going through, because it’s all different, but at least I can speak to my experiences.”
A Louisiana chapter offering and one of Hill’s primary responsibilities is applying that understanding and experience to the organization’s 24-hour brain injury hotline. Hill carries the hotline phone with her wherever she goes and says she averages about 30 calls a month. The calls, which can come from a direct local line or the Brain Injury Association’s national hotline, run the gamut topically.
“People call looking for resources, support groups, what to do,” she says, “I have some individuals who call once a week just to check in and talk. It’s been incredibly rewarding to do that because sometimes a parent calls not even knowing what they’re looking for, and it ends up they just need someone to talk to.”
The hotline is just one aspect of the chapter’s growing offerings. While BIALA doesn’t directly offer support groups, it does work with state support groups by offering resources and grants. Hill says the chapter is working to bring the state’s nine support groups together for a joint event next year.
The chapter has also built a reputation for its annual conference. This year’s conference focused on “Technology in Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation” and drew great crowds in addition to a number of sponsors and exhibitors. The conference was highlighted by speeches and a number of presentations on the future of technology as it relates to brain injury and SCI. PDFs of the presentations are available on the chapter’s website, www.biala.org.