It’s a pleasantly bucolic, but otherwise unremarkable, property comprised of a few single-storey buildings scattered about a small Willoughby acreage.

With two houses — as well as some office and therapy space —  surrounded by small flower gardens, lawns and trees, there is nothing to identify Connect as anything but a residential property to the casual passerby. Nothing to indicate that the site has, for the past two decades, been home to one of two brain injury rehabilitation centres of its kind in B.C.

And that, says its president and COO, Patti Flaherty, is entirely the point.

Connect Langley is actually comprised of five houses. Two are located on the same Willoughby property as its administrative offices, another sits just a few blocks away and there are two more toward the south end of town, with a total of 29 bedrooms available for people recovering from traumatic brain injuries and strokes.

A second location, which opened five years ago at a single location in Lake Country in the Okanagan, meanwhile, is made up of townhouse-style residences, with space for 42 people.

What both properties have in common is that they are designed to function as much like typical homes — and as little like a hospital — as possible for the people who reside in them during their recovery.

Built around community and relationships, Connect “is not the typical rehab environment,” said Flaherty. But it is filling an important gap, she added.

“There is a lack of services and supports in B.C. to help (people with brain injury) be in the world, contribute to the community and have awesome lives.”

Connect’s team of ‘coaches’ helps residents focus on their passions, strengths and abilities, and to design a new life around these attributes.

Acquired brain injury is the biggest disabler of British Columbians under 45 years old, according to Connect. And with so many years often still ahead, it’s vital that as much quality of life is regained as possible.

“People with brain injury and strokes often lose relationships — they’re lonely. We wanted to create a model that prevents that from happening,” Flaherty said.

And for that, she added, self-reliance is key, because the surroundings in which a person recovers will likely define the rest of their life.

Neuroplasticity — in simple terms, the brain’s ability to rewire itself after an injury — can work for or against a person, depending on their environment, said Flaherty.

For that reason, she explained, it’s important to provide a place that is both stimulating and challenging.

“Living in long-term care works against you — you become institutionalized,” she said.

“(Connect is) about people owning their own stuff — not relying on the system to look after them.”

On Friday, Sept. 19, Connect will officially celebrate 20 years of helping people with  acquired brain injury, as well as those who have suffered strokes, to re-design their lives as they recover, rather than try to re-create the life they once had.

“We do things that make sense for the individual versus what makes sense for the system.

“Everyone’s experience is different,” said Flaherty.

Physical coach, David Dalley has been with Connect since July. He’s had no trouble adjusting to the care model.

“I made the switch a long time ago,” he said. “Maybe I didn’t fit in so well in the other environment.

“Part of what I try to do as a coach is figure out what gives people meaning,” he said.

That includes entering any situation open to the idea he might be guided somewhere unexpected, and steering conversations toward strengths versus deficiencies.

“What are your interests? What are you good at? What would you like to continue doing?”

For Chilliwack’s John Kendrick, one answer to those questions is simply being outdoors. Prior to suffering a stroke 15 months ago, he liked to swim and ride his bicycle.

And, working with Dalley, it is these activities that Kendrick hopes to one day resume.

Connect is the third rehabilitation centre that Kendrick has been in.  At each, he received treatment to help him regain both his speech and the lost mobility in his right side. But he said he has made the quickest and most notable progress since arriving at Connect.

He welcomes the opportunity for a more self-guided recovery.

“You get to do what you want,” he said.

While the facilities where Kendrick began his rehabilitation were more like hospitals, he now lives in one of the Willoughby houses with a group of other men. Helped by an independence coach, the residents share a kitchen and other common living areas, but can seek privacy in their bedrooms, surrounded by their own possessions.

Regular outings to restaurants, movies, a pub or even a walking track offer residents the ability to continue taking part in the everyday activities they enjoyed before their injury or stroke.

Since the ultimate goal of Connect is to prepare people to live in the community — either on their own or with some level of support — rather than end up being, for all intents and purposes, ‘warehoused’ in long-term care, it is a model that will save money in the long run, noted Flaherty.

A private company, Connect receives much of its funding through agencies such as Fraser Health Authority and WorkSafe B.C.

The Okanagan location of Connect recently signed a 20-year contract with the Interior Health Authority which has allowed to hire a full complement of coaching staff.

Flaherty would like to see a similar arrangement made with Fraser Health at the Langley location, which currently works, for the most part, on a case-by-case basis with FHA.

There is “definitely a need” to expand, she said.

According to information gathered by Connect, an estimated 22,000 British Columbians acquire brain injuries each year and as many as 160,000 people live with the impact of brain injury at any time in the province.

On Sept. 19, Connect will celebrate 20 years in Langley — as well as its five years in Lake Country — with a garden party and luncheon at each location.

The two parties will connect via Skype for short speeches and to exchange a greeting. The event will run from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Everyone is invited to come out and learn more about the Connect model of care.

“We feel ethically obligated to share it because we know it’s the right thing to do,” said Flaherty. “It allows families to be families, and not just caregivers.”

Connect is at 20445 73A Ave.

To learn more, visit

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