Greater Boston Chapter: Peer Gold

The stunning Spaulding Rehab Hospital is an inherently inspirational place for peer mentoring.

The stunning Spaulding Rehab Hospital is an inherently inspirational place for peer mentoring.

Peer mentoring is a critical component for many NSCIA chapters, but for the Greater Boston Chapter it’s more than that: It’s an identity.

In a unique setup that dates back to a chapter founder doubling as the director of the rehab program at Boston’s Spaulding Rehab Hospital, the chapter shares office space with the busiest SCI unit in the metropolitan area. That allows for unprecedented back-and-forth between the hospital’s rehab team and three part-time staff and 12-13 volunteer mentors the chapter employs.

“I think what makes us so successful is that we are truly embedded with the patient care team at Spaulding,” says Beth Weaver, the chapter’s director. “We are considered one of the 10 components of the team.”

“It’s like a very good marriage. It works really well,” says Daniel Meninger, the program director for the spinal cord injury program at Spaulding. “We’re working in parallel with each other to help the patients and their families reach their goals as opposed to opposing each other.”

“There’s a lot of informal discussion that happens — from therapists or nurses just seeing one of the peers here and saying, ‘Hey, can you go see my patient in this particular room, they’re having trouble with whatever,’ to weekly staff meetings where we review some of the patients and review when is the right time to go in and be that peer.”

The chapter’s success stems from more than just the location of its office. It has honed the peer mentoring program over many years. Mentors are carefully screened. They must be three years post-injury and living successfully in the community before going through training and HIPAA-certification. The chapter produced its own training video and has an extensive handbook. Beneath all the training is the fundamental fact that peer mentoring revolves around connecting with a peer.

“A friendly face, hope and honest discussion, that’s really what it’s about,” says Weaver. “The biggest impact that a peer mentor has is the psychological one.”

GBC peer mentors Pamela Daley, Jerry Donovan and Chris Ray (front L-R) play a key role with the Spaulding Rehab team. Standing (L-R): Caitlin Weiler, Irene Lerman, Daniel Meninger and Julie Maney.

GBC peer mentors Pamela Daley, Jerry Donovan and Chris Ray (front L-R) play a key role with the Spaulding Rehab team. Standing (L-R): Caitlin Weiler, Irene Lerman, Daniel Meninger and Julie Maney.

As anyone who has had a spinal cord injury or spent time in rehab can tell you, simply having someone to talk to who has been through a similar experience can be a game changer. In addition to helping teach a bi-weekly education series covering all the basics of living with an SCI, mentors make regular individual visits to patients’ rooms.

“It’s one thing for me as a nondisabled physical therapist to be able to tell a person that this is how you do the transfer and this is how you get in and out of bed,” says Meninger. “It’s another thing for someone who does that every day and is successfully living in the community to say that — someone who is able to say, you know what, I know it’s difficult, but this is how you’re going to get through it, this is how I got through it and this how I manage it.”

Weaver assumed the director position last year and credits the chapter’s previous director, David Estrada, with emphasizing the centrality of the peer mentoring program.

“We’ve been pulled in many different directions, but Dave really worked hard and taught me to stay on focus with what you do really well,” says Weaver. “We have limited resources and limited funds and you could easily get caught up in other things that are not as effective.”

That would be a huge loss according to Meninger, not only for the chapter but the SCI community of the greater Boston area. Asked what advice he would give to a chapter looking to establish a similar program, he was clear: “Find a way to do it because there really is value in it.”

Spotlight: Boston

By Kristen McCosh

Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau

Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau

My Take
With its narrow streets, open-air markets and ethnic charm, Boston is reminiscent of an old European city. More than 20 distinct neighborhoods have unique identities and rich cultural traditions. Visitors can get authentic Asian cuisine in Chinatown, or go to a real Italian festival in the North End. You can stop at a pub in the Irish enclave of South Boston or spend an afternoon in the artsy village of Jamaica Plain wandering through specialty shops and sampling Latino foods. Be sure to visit the Fenway neighborhood. Offering more than just Red Sox games, the Fenway area has famous museums, parks, and gardens. You can end the day with a shopping trip to the iconic Newbury Street section of the Back Bay or a harbor cruise from the trendy new Seaport District.

Skinny on the City
Boston is famous for the quintessential charm of historic areas like Beacon Hill and Harvard Yard, but old brick sidewalks can be tricky for wheelchair users. Recently, the city has begun replacing old, uneven bricks with smooth, wire-cut pavers, but many historical areas have yet to change. Autumn is the best time to visit Boston, particularly in October when the city is awash in golden yellow and orange foliage. Fall weather brings bright sunny days, warm ocean winds, and crisp, clear nights.

Must See, Must Do
Castle Island, part of Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” park system, is actually a peninsula. It was connected by landfill years ago, and today the area includes a beautiful park with smooth concrete trails that wind around a Civil War-era fort. The island offers spectacular views of the Atlantic and cruise ships leaving port in summer and fall. It is also home to Sullivan‘s, the famous hot dog stand. There are over 1,000 acres of connected parkland in the “Emerald Necklace,” including places like the Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park Zoo. Many of Boston’s 34 Harbor Islands have been revitalized and make great tourist destinations. Georges Island is the most wheelchair-friendly, with resurfaced pathways and an accessible ferry that leaves from Rowes Wharf during the summer.

Health Care
The brand new $225 million Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, completed in 2013, provides world-class inpatient and outpatient care for spinal cord injuries. The nine-story glass building, located on a prime site overlooking Boston Harbor, houses a therapy pool and several gyms. The outdoor space is as impressive as the inside — a fully accessible harbor trail winds around the building, leading to fishing piers designed for wheelchairs and docks offering adaptive water sports. The centerpiece of the area is a fully inclusive, ADA-compliant playground that is open to the public, where kids with disabilities can play alongside their nondisabled siblings and friends.

Getting Around
Accessibility on the public transit system, the MBTA (known locally as the “T”), has improved dramatically over the past decade, thanks to advocacy by the disability community. Now all buses are wheelchair accessible, and the majority of subway lines are, too. Visitors who use paratransit services in their home state can sign up to use the T’s paratransit service, The Ride, as long as they bring their paratransit card with them. Amtrak stations can take you north to Canada or South to Miami Beach, and Logan International Airport is only a 10-minute ride from downtown on the T. Walkers and wheelers alike know Boston as “America’s Walking City.” It was recently voted the Safest City for Pedestrians in the USA!

Places to Go
I love wheeling from the Waterfront over the bridge to Charlestown, where the historic Battle of Bunker Hill was fought. Or wheel from the open studios in the South End to the artist district near South Station known as Fort Point.

Located in the Prudential Tower in Copley Square, The Top of the Hub offers 360-degree views of Boston on a clear day. The menu is a bit pricey, but the view is worth it. The Sunday brunch is a great option, as it often has a jazz band playing in the background.