By Bill Gentry, Jan Gillis (’07) and Kelley Freund (’07)Kim Chidubeme Okafor (’14)
West River, Md.
Pre-professional health, Special Education minor
Occupational Therapy master’s student
Crossroads to Brain Injury Recovery Center volunteer
Christine Bolander (’12, ’13M) came to JMU knowing what she wanted to in her career. Fresh off an occupational therapy internship, Bolander knew this was her career of choice and she was excited to begin her undergraduate experience. Since JMU’s occupational therapy is a post-grad program, Bolander went looking for ways to gear her undergraduate learning experiences toward grad school and the job she was passionate about.
The Huber Learning Community and director Sharon Babcock offered Bolander the answers. “During spring semester of my freshman year, Dr. Babcock was going over one of my papers about Huber,” explains Bolander. “I learned a valuable lesson that has served me in my academics, as well as in my therapeutic interactions. Healing is not simply a donation; healing is mutual. In this relationship the therapist and the patient both have something to give and take. This has framed my view of occupational therapy. OT is not simply a service, but an interaction.”
Bolander put her new attitude to use during her Huber service-learning stint at the Crossroads to Brain Injury Recovery Center. The group provides community-based services to individuals in the Shenandoah Valley who have been affected by brain injury. The center also offers assistance with case management, life skills training, education, outreach and advocacy.
“I learned a valuable lesson that has served me in my academics, as well as in my therapeutic interactions. Healing is not simply a donation; healing is mutual. In this relationship the therapist and the patient both have something to give and take. This has framed my view of occupational therapy. OT is not simply a service, but an interaction.”
“I was drawn to this organization because of my interest in understanding the rehabilitation process for brain injuries,” says Bolander. “I developed a whole new level of empathy for those affected by brain injuries. There is no way to prepare for how this type of injury can affect your life. Knowing these clients may have lived a completely different life and in one day everything changed. … Even the most mundane tasks can become a struggle. I have great admiration for those who have undergone that experience and can still manage to find the silver lining.”
Currently in the occupational therapy master’s program at JMU, Bolander says the Huber Learning Community put her on the fast track to achieving her goals. She and best friend, Brooke Helsabeck, also a Huber alum, are working together on their research thesis, which focuses on current rehabilitative methods used with human sex trafficking survivors. Last winter the two attended a conference and learned that there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today, 80 percent of which are sex slaves.
The duo thought that the data for their research was going to be gathered solely from electronic surveys sent out on the Internet. But then two amazing opportunities were presented to them. While Helsabeck spent time with LightForce International in San Juan, Costa Rica, Bolander spent nine weeks interning with the Zion Project in Gulu, Uganda.
Each morning and afternoon Bolander worked with Congolese refugee women who were forced into prostitution, brothels and the sex industry due to poverty and lack of options. Bolander says the Zion Project offers these women counseling, mentorship and a new occupation of bead making. In the evenings Bolander worked with 17 girls with similar pasts, ages 6-15. “These girls and women have experienced pasts of desperation and darkness,” says Bolander, “but now you don’t see the blank, emotionless stares or the raging anger toward the world. You see smiles, singing and dancing; you see joy and most importantly you see hope. They are healing and they have dreams they are fighting for.”
Bolander’s career dream is to mirror her summer in Uganda doing and become an occupational therapist in a developing country. She hopes to offer healing and rehabilitation to those with disabilities or traumatic backgrounds. “My desire is to use OT in conjunction with ministry,” she says. “To experience fullness in life, we have to consider not only our physical, emotional and mental health, but also our spiritual well-being.”
Bolander adds, “JMU is known for valuing service, but it’s deeper than that. JMU values people. We encourage relationships, we encourage growth, and as stated in our mission statement we encourage conducting a meaningful life. What I have learned from my years at JMU and through my experience with the Huber Learning Community is that a meaningful life is rooted in giving. It’s finding what strengths and gifts we each have and sharing them with others.”