By Deyanira Romo Rossell
Chatting for six hours a day may not sound like the most effective use of time for a young college intern, but when the conversation is with people suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI), it can change lives. While internships give college students a very beneficial jump start on their career aspirations, every once in a while, as in the case of Richard “Trey” Ibarra, III ’10 BA the benefit the intern provides is equally as great.
Ibarra, who graduated from UIW with a degree in psychology, interned with Trey’s House, a nonprofit clubhouse dedicated to improving the lives of survivors of acquired or traumatic brain injury. He took the internship above and beyond expectations.
“My internship was supposed to last three months, but I believed so strongly in the cause and the good it was doing that I stayed on for two years,” said Ibarra. “I believed in the passion that everybody at Trey’s house had and how it was helping not only the members but also the community. It is a holistic approach to deal with traumatic brain injuries that is successful.”
While having the right nickname didn’t hurt, it was because of his devotion to the members of Trey’s House, that Ibarra was appointed executive director of the nonprofit by its founder, Margaret Griffith. Known as Maggie to all who visit the clubhouse, she named Trey’s House after her son, another Trey, Wayland Griffith, III, who suffered injury to his brain following surgery to remove a tumor at age 22. Griffith left her job and put everything aside to help her son heal.
“I was advised to place him in a group home or adult day care, where he could remain for the rest of his life. I refused,” she said. “I had a group of friends of his who wouldn’t let him go. They hung out on the back porch. They brought over guitars and games. We watched him heal. We watched everything rewire. We knew if it worked for him, it would work for others, so we decided to open Trey’s House based on my back porch,” Griffith added.
The back porch quickly got crowded with new members seeking camaraderie, healing and a new life. Griffith found herself needing more space. She opened the clubhouse at a new, more central location on Blanco Road in San Antonio, serving even more people with brain injuries similar to the one suffered by her son.
“It started out as three or four people chit chatting for about six hours every day, then we had as many as 10 to 20 at a time,” Griffith recalls.
Ibarra began his internship at this new location, where the extra space and easier access meant more survivors of traumatic brain injury could seek solace in a safe and comfortable place.
“Part of the problem with brain injury is fear. Having a community surround you is a good thing. It allows you to practice speaking. The fear of talking in public and to other people is great when you have aphasia or difficulty speaking,” said Griffith.
Completely immersed in the community-centered healing, Ibarra leant an ear, hearing and seeing firsthand how the conversations with the clubhouse members became more fluid and interesting.
“There was one member that I would talk to every day, just about anything and often the same thing every day. Then one day something happened and it got to where I could actually have a conversation with him about different topics,” said Ibarra.
While the success stories piled up, the funding dried up and Griffith met with another life challenge. Rather than close Trey’s House, Griffith, with the support of stalwart volunteers like Ibarra, kept the clubhouse going, where it all began, at her home.
“The need is still there. The members still come over. We sing, we play music and even offer crafts,” she said. “It is a place where they can feel completely comfortable talking without any concerns about the societal stigma placed on them,” she added.
Trey Griffith, now 34, and while forever changed, is a living testament to how Trey’s House really can help survivors of traumatic brain injury heal. He pleasantly converses and enjoys the company of Ibarra, who is like part of the family now.
While completely comfortable hanging out with the club members, as executive director, Ibarra is also in charge of fundraising, marketing and financial planning.
Ibarra’s degree from UIW, as much acquiring it as achieving it, has a lot to do with the devotion he has to service. From humble beginnings, Ibarra worked and scraped together money to pay for his education on his own.
“I wrote about 100 letters trying to get scholarships and financial aid. It was always my dream to go to UIW and I did it,” he said.
This can-do attitude is what made him such an asset to Griffith and Trey’s House.
“Trey (Ibarra) pulled himself up by his boot straps. He did not have a family member to write a check, but he wanted to go to UIW and he made it happen. He put himself through school,” Griffith said.
Serving out the Mission of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, the founders of UIW, Ibarra selflessly gives of his time to serve the most vulnerable–the members of Trey’s House. For him it is not just a job; it is fulfilling a commitment to service.
“It was incredible to see how the clubhouse members made progress every day. It made it impossible for me to step away from the internship,” Ibarra said. For him, the internship and the learning experience were invaluable, and for the members of Trey’s House, his leadership and compassionate attention to their needs both engenders hope and healing in them and energizes Griffith to keep the clubhouse open.
“Trey (Ibarra) has compassion and empathy but does not pat someone on the head and feel sorry for them which is hypercritical in the healing process. He has just the right balance,” said Griffith.
Ibarra is making sure that Trey’s House can again thrive in a central location where anyone suffering from traumatic brain injury can seek the care and healing of the clubhouse. These days he balances two jobs with his nonprofit leadership of Trey’s House.
“I want to make sure the great progress she (Griffith) has made in helping survivors of traumatic brain injury continues,” said Ibarra.
Ibarra is working with Griffith to solicit donations from the local community, with a goal of raising $50,000 to reopen Trey’s House as a coffee house offering the same fellowship and support that has continued since it all began. He is looking for development board members and seeks out families with loved ones who have suffered from the devastating effects of traumatic brain injury. For more information on Trey’s House or to make a donation, call (210) 771-4489, email treyshousesa@ yahoo.com or visit http://treyshousesa.org/about_us.
See page 2 for additional information on TBI.