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A Life Changing Volunteer Experience with Empower Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Published September 25, 2018

“I had the amazing opportunity to spend a week volunteering at Empower Spinal Cord Injury (SCI),” says Physical Therapy Professor J.J. Mowder-Tinney. Empower Spinal Cord Injury is a charitable organization that works with individuals with spinal cord disabilities to help them reach their highest potential for an independent life. During the Summer of 2018, Mowder-Tinney, and current physical therapy student Sarah Conroy each had a life changing experience working with Empower in Long Island, N.Y.

Empower puts on a yearly two-week event to show individuals with this type of disability all of opportunities they still have. It is hosted at Stony Brook University, so the volunteers and participants stayed in the dorms that were filled with both treatments, and laughter. Using few resources, Conroy and Mowder-Tinney applied their PT knowledge to treat and help the clients participate in different activities.

A day of surfing was the highlights of the program, where an unimaginable activity for individuals battling spinal cord injuries suddenly became possible. Conroy and Mowder-Tinney, along with a large group of other volunteers, carried the participants into the water on surfboards, while holding on tight and watching them closely, allowing them to ride the waves.

Knowing they were volunteering for a great cause, and given an opportunity to practice what they love, Conroy and Mowder-Tinney were unaware of the lasting impact this program would have on their own lives. "I went into this volunteer opportunity to make a difference and help as much as possible, but little did I know my own life would be changed in the process,” says Conroy.

As she looks back on her time with Empower, Conroy explains that it had been one of the most eye-opening and rewarding experiences. “I loved every minute of my Empower experience and am so blessed to have a new family in my life who not only left a lasting impact on my life, but has given me a new perspective on it as well.”

As chair of the Nazareth College Physical Therapy department, Mowder-Tinney’s time is limited. This summer, she found time in her schedule to volunteer with Empower SCI for an entire week. “I had been told for years by dear friends how much I would love it.  But every year I felt my schedule was too busy to attend. Looking back at the experience, I realize that moving forward I don't have the time NOT to attend. What a true gift the week was to me.”

 An experience like this is not one you can get in the classroom. Both Conroy and Mowder-Tinney understand how their time with Empower SCI has added value to their lives. “This opportunity was truly rejuvenating.  It helped remind me why I love what I do and work so hard to teach the students to be the best therapists they can be,” Mowder-Tinney states.

For More Information

Watch video highlights from the day of surfing

Nazareth College’s academic strengths cross an unusually broad spectrum of 60 majors, including education, health and human services, management, the fine arts, music, theater, math and science, foreign languages, and the liberal arts. The coeducational, religiously independent, classic campus in a charming suburb of Rochester, N.Y., challenges and supports 2,200 undergrads and 700 graduate students. Nazareth is recognized nationally for its Fulbright global student scholars and commitment to civic engagement. Rigorous programs, an uncommon arts and sciences core, experiential learning, career skills, and a global focus prepare graduates for not just one job, but for their life’s work.