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Homer's Independent Living Center will use $99K grant for traumatic brain injury work

Geisler said Independent Living Center staff worked with more than 800 people last year from its offices in Homer, Soldotna, Seward and Kodiak.
Hope McKenney
Geisler said Independent Living Center staff worked with more than 800 people last year from its offices in Homer, Soldotna, Seward and Kodiak.

Homer’s Independent Living Center has received a $98,962 grant to train staff working with people who have traumatic brain injuries.

Joyanna Geisler is the founder and executive director of the local nonprofit, which works with individuals experiencing all disabilities.

She said the grant from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority will help the center build up a training program so staff can better work with individuals and families who’ve been impacted by traumatic brain injuries — which Alaskans deal with at a disproportionately high rate.

Alaska has one of the highest number of people experiencing traumatic brain injuries in the nation. From 2012 to 2016, about one out of every five reported injuries in Alaska included a brain injury, according to ananalysis done by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

“What we hope to do is what is called service facilitation or service coordination,” Geisler said. “And that is identifying with the individual and/or their family, what the needs are, and to specifically help them get their needs met.”

Geisler said there are currently 80 individuals who have had brain injuries or strokes that receive services from one of the Living Center’s four locations on the Kenai Peninsula and in Kodiak. She said nine staff members will receive training through the grant.

Steve Williams is the CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. He said the trust, which is a state corporation, functions similar to a private foundation.

Their trustees approve about $25 million a year to give grants to various programs that serve Alaskans with mental illness, substance use disorders, traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer's and dementia, and those who experience an intellectual or developmental disability.

Williams said the trust was excited to receive the application from the Independent Living Center to support staff training.

“We know that traumatic brain injuries are things that really do have a pretty prevalent impact on Alaskans,” he said. “In general, we tend to be employed by industries where increases for traumatic brain injury are higher than maybe in other states. We also know that Alaskans recreate in a variety of ways that also places them at high risk for a potential traumatic brain injury.”

In addition to their work with survivors of brain injuries, the Independent Living Center staff provide services for senior citizens and for people with other disabilities. Geisler said they worked with more than 800 people last year from its offices in Homer, Soldotna, Seward and Kodiak.

“There are a couple of things that really make our agency different than any other human services organization,” she said. “And that is that anybody of any age with any disability is eligible for our services. So we don't have an age limit. We don't have a certain disability category. The other thing that is really unusual is the majority of us on staff experience disabilities ourselves.”

Geisler said money from the grant became available in July and they’re just in the training process now.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority has also given grants to a number of local organizations in the past, including South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services and the Senior Center in Anchor Point.

In 2019, Hope moved to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor to work for Alaska's Energy Desk and KUCB — the westernmost public radio newsroom in the country. She has lived, worked and filed stories from California, New York, Bolivia, Peru, Cuba and Alaska.
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