Santa Barbara has been a better place for brain injury survivors ever since Carrie Bissell joined the Jodi House team this past February. Bissell, the new executive director of the county’s only brain rehabilitation center, has already spearheaded two projects to increase community outreach.
“We’ve always had a great reputation with a small subset of the Santa Barbara community, but we are not widely known,” said Bissell, who has a background in business. “I think I can use my marketing skills here.”
The center was previously reaching only 10 percent of the Santa Barbara’s 5,000 brain injury survivors, but thanks to Bissell, this number is quickly growing. Jodi House is now teaming up with Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital and Coast Care Giver Resource Center — a collaboration that allows survivors to be put in contact with Jodi House immediately after their injury. The center, which will celebrate its 30th birthday this year, is also joining forces for the first time with the Trauma Department at Cottage Hospital.
After years of work in marketing and consulting, Bissell decided make the career change with encouragement from her husband Dr. Charlie Bissell, with whom she co-owns Bissell Chiropractic Sports in Montecito and has two children. She has served on the board at Jodi House and in February took the position of executive director.
“The transition has been great,” she said. “When I was working for corporate America, I always thought, ‘What am I doing for humanity?’ I like that what we are doing here is important work and makes a difference in people’s lives.”
Jodi House—named in honor of Jodi Wustman, a 19-year-old college student who suffered a severe brain injury after being hit by a drunk driver—offers a Clubhouse Day Program for adults at the center on 625 Chapala Street. Weekly activities at the newly renovated downtown Victorian house (previously Chad’s Restaurant) include yoga, ceramics, Spanish conversation, baking, and hip-hop. On an average day, Jodi House welcomes around 25 of its 145 members. The center also has a branch in Solvang, which meets on Wednesdays at the Santa Ynez Valley Nonprofit Center.
The second service that Jodi House offers is a direct referral program that connects survivors of all ages with area medical and mental health care providers. All of the services are free, a great burden off of members, 50 percent of who earn less than $20,000.
“You know, a brain injury can happen anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. And your life is changed,” said Bissell. “Our members refer to this as a lifeline for them. They can come here and be themselves. One man said, ‘I can talk incessantly and nobody’s going to think I’m weird.’ A brain injury is a lifelong problem that doesn’t go away and it’s that peer support that I think is so beneficial in that healing process.”