Sometimes, all it takes is a simple, beaded bracelet to remind one of something—or someone—special.
For speech-language pathology (SLP) students Gabrielle (Belle) Mehring and Jennifer Boehlke, the bracelets remind them of Brendan Cullen, one of their clients who utilized the services at Concordia University Wisconsin’s SLP clinic over the summer.
Brendan makes the bracelets with the help of his parents, and sells them to a variety of customers, from those who shop at the Cedarburg Mercantile & Blossom IDD where they are on display, to the students who see and work with Brendan when he uses CUW’s physical, occupational and speech therapy services. (IDD stands for Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.)
“I own two of Brendan’s bracelets. I have also purchased several of his bracelets as gifts for my family and friends,” Jennifer said. “The hardest part is picking which bracelets to buy, as each is unique and beautiful… When I wear Brendan’s bracelets, it reminds me of his passion for the bracelets and my time with him, especially his humor.”
Belle added: “I own many of Brendan’s bracelets and have also purchased multiple for family members who support his efforts, recovery and long-term contributions to society. Personally, when I wear my bracelets, I often think about my opportunity to work with Brendan. I think about the incredible story that Brendan has to tell and the hardworking man that I had the opportunity to see each week.”
Brendan does, indeed, have a remarkable story and journey to tell. He graduated from North Dakota State University in 2015 with a degree in construction management and a minor in business administration. After working at power plants in Montana and Iowa, he began working as a project manager in California and made bracelets for fun in his free time for family and friends.
In 2017, he was in a motorcycle accident that left him in a coma for four months. He suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the accident and has been working on improving his skills and daily activities since.
“We feel so blessed to have found the Concordia programs,” said mom Kathy Cullen. “Brendan’s journey since his accident has been long and will continue to be an ongoing healing and therapy process. Although we work with Brendan at home, it’s awesome for him to get outside therapy and interact with students who are somewhat close to him in age.”
Dad Tim Cullen added: “The directors and students engage Brendan to do different physical movements, occupational maneuvers, and speech techniques that we can work on at home. Improvements are one step at a time; we don’t expect life-changing events quickly.”
This isn’t Kathy’s first experience with Concordia. Her two nieces—Calli (Ames) Woodliff (2016) and Holly (Peterson) Kennedy (2013)—graduated from CUW, and her church, First Immanuel in Cedarburg, holds summer services on the bluff that the couple has attended for many years. “It is beautiful to worship overlooking the beauty of God’s creation,” Kathy said.
And while the Cullen’s like that CUW is close to their Mequon home, what really sold them on enrolling Brendan in the rehabilitation programs is how he connects with the students.
“When we started at Concordia, we found right away Brendan connected with the students,” Tim said. “Their excitement to work with him was very noticeable. Right away I said this is a win-win for students and Brendan. The students get hands-on feedback and Brendan gets physical, mental and speech development.”
Concordia, the clinic and its students have made such a great impact on the Cullens that they decided to make a donation to help others get help at the university.
“We are so grateful to have found the Concordia therapy programs,” Kathy said. “We are impressed by the student-clinicians’ efforts, compassion, and kindness in working with Brendan.”
She told the story of one student who especially touched her heart.
“She mentioned to Brendan at their first meeting that they had something in common,” Kathy said about a physical therapy student. “She said she heard that he made bracelets and she shared that she also made jewelry, but had not done it for a while since she was very busy with school.
“On the day of their last session together, she brought in all her beading supplies and tools and gave them to Brendan. He had a smile a mile wide. We were absolutely stunned and amazed by her kindness. It was so touching that it made me want to cry.”
The Cullens’ gift has not gone unnoticed by the students who will also benefit from their generosity.
“Thanks to donors such as Brendan’s family, other SLP graduate students and I are able to fully experience a clinical atmosphere on campus,” Belle said. “The CUW clinic enhances our classroom knowledge and creates a space for us to refine our clinical skills in order to prepare us for the real world.”
To purchase one of Brendan’s bracelets, visit the Cedarburg Mercantile & Blossom ID, W61 N510 Washington Ave, Cedarburg, WI, or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To make a donation to Concordia University’s School of Health Professions, click here.
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