Furniture Gets New Life From People Recovering From Brain Injuries

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DES MOINES, Iowa –Refinishing furniture at a house in Des Moines started out as a way to keep a group of people busy. Now, it’s providing a second chance.

Donald Nelson likes to stay busy. “I’m doing edges right now,” he said. He’s been working on a dresser for about a month. “I’m in no hurry to get it done. I’m here until the end of January, so I’m in no real hurry on it.”

Refinishing furniture isn’t his job or even his hobby. He took it up when he moved into On With Life’s Residential Neuro Rehabilitation house. “I had a real bad bike accident. I hit my head on the pavement. There was about another half of head back here,” said Nelson.

The crash nearly killed him. Nelson was in a wheelchair and had to learn to walk again. He came to On With Life in June and moved into the RNR house in November. He started stripping the dresser.

Brianna Kappos, Residential Support Supervisor, said, “We have a lot of down time and we needed to come up with a constructive way to fill that. This idea of refinishing furniture came up.”

She helps the five people living at the home work on activities of daily living, like cooking, cleaning, getting dressed, and working towards living independently again. She had a book shelf and a dresser in her garage, and she thought refinishing the furniture could serve as a form of therapy. “With them working on all this stuff, it works on fine motor stuff, it works on them doing some big picture thinking, thinking through different steps of what we need to do next,” she said.

Nicholas Carver worked on the first piece. He wants to find more furniture, refinish it, and resell it to help others recovering from brain injuries. “I enjoyed painting. I enjoyed the whole thing,” said Carver.

As for Nelson, he enjoys giving this piece of furniture a second chance, just like he’s been given. “I’ve been lucky. I came out of it pretty decent,” he said.

On With Life’s Residential Neuro Rehabilitation house opened a couple years ago.
It’s served more than a dozen people already.

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