Stroke survivor Calvin Gill works on a machine that helps him recover his coordination skills. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

Advocate for brain injured people looking for help to keep Let’s Connect alive

Chris Rafuse has a lot on her mind these days and much of it revolves around helping people who are dealing with some type of brain injury.

The retired former Bell Canada employee is the driving force behind a community-based peer support initiative called Let’s Connect.

Rafuse didn’t have to look far to find inspiration for the project.

“I have a husband with two brain injuries and my son is a veteran with severe PTSD,” she explains.

“I wanted to build a program that would enable my son to function as best he can.”

Let’s Connect operated for five years in the library and then met in the meeting room at Sands Funeral Chapel in Duncan. Recently, Rafuse secured space in the Clements Sundrop Centre, a former school on Banks Road near the hospital.

The move has allowed the Let’s Connect program to expand its services and there are now about 60 people who regularly take advantage of the facility and its services.

Rafuse, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Therapeutic Recreation at Dalhousie University after she retired, designs activities for people who have suffered a stroke, been in an accident or are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Participants work on art, puzzles and word games or just socialize in the stimulating but relaxed setting.

First Nations master carver Rupert Scow, who suffered a stroke six years ago, has moved to the area and will be leading what Rafuse is calling “our signature program” a class that will relieve anxiety and depression.

“When they come here it’s like magic,” Rafuse’s son, 42-year-old Paul Laporte commented.

“I like it here, everybody’s broken like me.”

Everyone is encouraged to challenge themselves but at a pace they can handle without getting stressed.

Calvin Gill is continuing on the long process of recovery after suffering a stroke 15 years ago at the age of 48. He says the Let’s Connect program is changing his life and he’s finally getting the support he needed.

“I didn’t get any support from anybody. I’ve got my brain woken up again,” he explains, taking a break from a machine that is helping his dexterity and concentration.

“After the stroke I felt I wasn’t part of anything. You feel left out from the world. My whole personality got knocked to the side,” says the former auto parts salesman.

“Now I have a purpose every day and I’ve got my life back again. Chris got me going. I’m organized.”

Not only has Chris Rafuse poured her heart and soul into the Let’s Connect initiative, she has tapped into her own financial resources to make the program a reality. She pays the monthly rent on the Banks Road space and estimates that she’s poured more than $30,000 into Let’s Connect.

But Rafuse, who is on long-term disability, awaiting hip surgery, says there’s a limit to how much she can invest and she’s looking for help to keep the program going. To this point she has received no funding from government or other sources, but she’s planning to knock on some key doors in the coming weeks.

“I’ve got six volunteers and need more but what we really need is some funding. I’m getting ready to go for funding,” she says.

Meanwhile, the work continues.

“It’s all about relieving the problem of depression and anxiety. I’m all about recreation, spelled re-creation.”

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John Semple, Paul Laporte and Mike Worth are looking forward to learning the fine art of carving from Rupert Scow. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

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