Headway member Wilbert 'Wil' Young at Banks Street Service Station, where he does vocational training.
When it comes to brain injury recovery, neuroplasticity is one of the most critical processes and gives hope to people living with these injuries. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself throughout life, producing new connections and pathways, which means if a part of the brain becomes damaged, other parts of the brain can compensate for the injury and restore function.
One of the keys to neuroplasticity is stimulation.Headway participant, Wilbert ‘Wil’ Young, shows us what neuroplasticity and stimulation is all about.
Wil served as a mechanic in the US Army and National Guard from 1994 until 2019 until he acquired a traumatic brain injury of unknown origins. For months, Wil received treatment in a California rehabilitation hospital and was unable to communicate who he was or where he was from. Eventually he recovered enough to identify himself and was reunited with his family in New Orleans.
Despite his homecoming and reuniting with his mom, Wil was still largely uncommunicative with limited motor function. His parents found out about Bastion’s Headway program and Wil joined it in 2020. Wil began attending the group sessions and one-on-one therapy with Headway’s occupational therapist, Rachel Schwenk.
“He’s made significant strides and improvements in his brain injury recovery,” says Rachel. “He was practically nonverbal when he first arrived and now is communicative, friendly and enjoys the camaraderie of the Headway group.”
During one OT session in his Broadmoor neighborhood, Wil and Rachel combined exercise and photography, which was part of the disposable camera workshop led by photographer/artist Fanny Garcia, who is also a veteran.
Wil stands next to his award-winning photograph.
Wil’s photograph of an abandoned bus was displayed in an exhibit at the New Orleans Photo Alliance, and later won first prize in the color photography at the local Veterans Affairs’ arts festival. And just a few weeks ago after displaying the photo in another exhibit, Phelps/Dunbar purchased the photograph and it’s now permanently hanging in its law offices.
“That was fun. I liked that,” says Wil. “I feel like an artist.”
Wil is also regaining his automotive mechanic skills from his days in the service. As part of Headway’s vocational skills training, Wil and Rachel have been spending time at the Banks Street Service Station, and he has been working with owner Tommie Thurmond and the other mechanics on brake repair and other jobs.
Wil says that the experience has been kindling old memories, stimulating him to remember things he used to know, and he’s thankful that the Headway program continues helping him in his recovery.
“It’s great. It actually helps you harness your abilities and brings out the best in you.”
Bastion Groundbreaking in 2016
Ten years is a long time, and since its founding in 2012, Bastion Community of Resilience has accomplished quite a bit, but we’re not resting on our laurels. Bastion is working on the next ten years to ensure all local veterans transitioning out of military service have the tools they need to succeed in civilian life.
Dylan Tête, an Iraq War Veteran with a master’s degree in public health, first arrived in New Orleans in 2005 after leaving Iraq and the US Army. Married and a new father, he struggled with the transition to civilian life and Dylan realized that many veterans, especially those with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and other conditions, were also struggling when they came home.
“There was a gap in the continuum of care for warriors who need lifelong rehabilitative care,” Dylan says. “Outpatient care after hospitalization wasn’t enough.” (something he observed upon his visits to Walter Reed, the Center for the Intrepid, and the VA’s polytrauma hub in Virginia).
What warriors and families needed the most was a supportive community of neighbors that could cure persistent loneliness and optimize social reintegration. So Dylan traveled to Hope Meadows in Illinois to learn more about their specialized neighborhood of care that used “intentional neighboring” as a primary intervention for foster youth and adoptive families. Dylan worked with Brenda Eheart, the founder of Hope Meadows, to adapt their model for a military population.
Bastion was born.
Bastion under construction 2016-17
Bastion broke ground on its first phase--38 apartments and a community center on a 5-acre campus located in New Orleans in 2016 and by 2018, it added 20 additional apartments for a total of 58. Primarily focused on veterans and families transitioning from military service to civilian life, Bastion is a thriving community, where residents benefit from the experience of helping others, promoting wellbeing and life satisfaction. The Bastion approach restores families, reduces stress at home, and expands social networks to strengthen resilience.
Celebrating full occupancy of Phase One
Dylan has more plans for Bastion.
“No veteran in the New Orleans area who is transitioning out of military service should fall through the cracks, and no one should struggle alone,” Dylan says.
Bastion will lead the effort in this goal by becoming a backbone organization in Southeast Louisiana and linking other veteran organizations together to create collective impact. Bastion will also promote health and wellbeing in the Gentilly neighborhood through its third phase: a wellness center that will serve military families in the metro area as well as the general public.
“I want Gentilly to be a thriving place for young families and our elders who have contributed so much to this neighborhood, and I think that can happen,” Dylan says, referring to the wellness center.
Since its founding 10 years ago, Bastion has been about helping people and communities become healthier. It’s a model that should be replicated throughout the country with Bastion communities in every major American city. And that’s exactly what the organization is working toward in the next ten years.
Help Bastion celebrate its 10-year anniversary on Veterans Day, November 11 with the “Veterans Experience Project” from 10am-6pm at Gallier Hall.