Meet Desiree Douglass.
Above: Douglass (on the right) poses with a friend at a HeadStrong event (courtesy photo)
Douglass is the president and founder of HeadStrong, a locally-based organization that supports youth with traumatic brain injury and their families. Douglass and the HeadStrong team have been longtime BESTies and community partners of the Brain Energy Support Team (BEST).
BEST had the opportunity to sit down with Douglass and ask her about her life, her passion and mission around HeadStrong and all of the support, resources and special events that the organization has to offer.
Read on and enjoy! We are sure that Douglass’ passion, energy, enthusiasm and warm heart will inspire you. Please join BEST by sharing the message of this great organization.
BEST: Tell us a little bit about your personal life.
DD: In 1990 our family moved from Ashland Oregon up to Bellingham. Wow, 24 years went fast! Both of my sons grew up in Western Washington and say they could never live anywhere else. I have to agree with them. I live in Seattle and have my own business as an environmental planner for nearly 20 years. I love to hike and camp. I also love live music and do Cuban dance.
BEST: When was HeadStrong founded and why? What is the mission and vision of the organization?
DD: HeadStrong was founded in 2006. I wasn’t actually trying to found an organization at the time. I started out trying to find other families who were living with brain injury so we could help each other through recovery and help our children not be so lonely. My youngest son had been hit by a car in a crosswalk in Seattle a year earlier, in 2005 when he was 11 years old. He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Our community was very supportive for the first six months but then slowly, all of his friends drifted away. He was so lonely and depressed and he had always been such a happy child.
So our first event was “HeadStrong – A Benefit” and was an evening of music, dance, and food at Ingraham High School. A bunch of families and children showed up, along with many community members. After that night, we knew we would keep creating fun ways for our families and kids to get together and get out in the community. In 2007, we formed a board of trustees and became a 501.c.3 non-profit organization. Harborview Medical Center collaborated with us to do outreach in the Pediatric ICU with HeadStrong/Harborview Totes for families who had a child in the PICU with brain injury. Today we are connected with over 100 families with children and young adults living with brain injury in primarily Western Washington.
Our mission is very simple:
HeadStrong supports youth and young adults living with brain injury and their families, educates about brain injury, and advocates for prevention and recovery support.
Our vision is for young people living with brain injury to have:
* A meaningful place in our communities
* Support for the best recovery possible
* Life with dignity and respect
* Promise for a bright future.
BEST: Tell us about the services, resources and support that HeadStrong provides to youth and their families.
DD: We have five main programs that all focus on building continuity of care, filling gaps in services, and getting out in our communities safely and successfully:
Harborview Outreach Totes for families
HeadStrong’s Tote Program is a collaboration with Harborview Medical Center to reach out to families with children in the Harborview Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) who have suffered a brain injury. Each Tote includes an array of practical items that help families while their child is in the PICU. We include brochures from BIAWA, HeadStrong, and other support organizations. The Totes give practical tangible support during the early ICU stay and help families get connected to resources when they go home.
Youth Social Events
We hold regular social events for young people recovering from brain injury and their families. Some of our past events include: swim parties, make your own pizza, concerts, bowling, trips to Seattle Center, NW Trek, Camp Korey, and more. Our young people find others who have similar challenges and victories. Our volunteer team includes college students and all the young people learn so much about each other. This past summer we held our first joint BEST HeadStrong Picnic at Dash Point. It was definitely the BEST to have all of us together on a beautiful day for barbeque, beach, and sunshine!
Caregiver Dinners – in Seattle and Tacoma
All friends or family members providing care are welcome. These dinners are filled with honest sharing about the realities of caring for our loved ones. We always have a topic or theme and share resource that we are finding to support recovery. We laugh a lot. We cry sometimes too. We get stronger.
The HeadStrong Mentor Training Program is designed to train professionals, family members, caregivers, tutors, and anyone living or working with people who live with brain injury. Mentoring is a traditional way societies pass on knowledge by working side by side and setting a positive example. This training helps us reach our potential to be an empowering support person.
Education and Prevention
HeadStrong presents at numerous conferences on youth and brain injury. Our presentations include educators, artists, youth living with brain injury, and others. Our goal is to end the stigma, isolation, and depression that too often follows brain injury and replace it with companionship, engagement, and hope.
We also participate in prevention programs and testified in Olympia for Washington’s cell phone driving bills and other pedestrian and driving safety events.
BEST: Tell us about the special events that you have coming up for this fall.
DD: This fall and winter we have a bunch of upcoming and ongoing events. You can join us at any of them and check our online calendar for details. Also, you can get on our mailing list for invitations by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 28, 2014 – HeadStrong Seattle Caregiver Dinner
6:30 pm at Bahama Breeze, Southcenter Mall
October 29th – HeadStrong Mentor Training “Identity & Meaningful Projects” – at BEST in Tacoma 5:00 to 9:00 pm
November 25, 2014 – HeadStrong South Caregiver Dinner
December 7, 2014 – HeadStrong’s Art and Ice Cream Holiday Party
November 11 – HeadStrong Mentor Training “Identity & Meaningful Projects” -at University of Puget Sound, 5:00 to 9:00 pm:
January 2015 – Weirdstock, an Evening of Food, Music & Art
Ongoing – Bobbi-jo’s video project: Life.Stop.Live. – Thank-You Harborview
BEST: What do you think the future holds for HeadStrong?
DD: That is a great question! At our first event in 2006, I would have never imagined all the great people and events we would be involved with today. I think the future holds more. More collaborations. More connections. More support for rebuilding lives in the community. More youth-directed projects and activities like Kory’s Weirdstock concert and Bobbi-jo’s Life.Stop.Live video.
I also see HeadStrong being part of a sea change in supports for recovery and rebuilding lives. The work around neuroplasticity gives us all great hope. I think the work to understand our brain and neuroplasticity will lead to new approaches during recovery. One of these I hope will be adding paraprofessional supports in the form of mentors to help people get back out in the community safely and with trained support. I see HeadStrong collaborating with likeminded organizations to demonstrate the high value of mentoring in the recovery process.