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Trey's House's unique low-budget outpost for brain-injured residents pursues its own recovery

Photo: Photos by Josh Huskin, License: N/A

Photos by Josh Huskin

Trey and Margaret Griffith

Photo: , License: N/A

Trey's House Vice President Darrell Tindall


Guillen summarized Trey's seemingly freewheeling approach in a single word: "freedom." The facility offers a welcome respite to TBI sufferers, whose lives are often marked by failed rehabilitation programs, PTSD, alcoholism, joblessness, homelessness, and poverty. "It's just a place where you can hang out," Guillen said. "You get to go pour yourself a cup of coffee, get a soda or different snacks, and play air hockey or use the pool table or watch TV."

In addition to socializing with other TBI survivors and volunteers, Guillen found opportunity to network. In 2010, Griffith introduced her members to a representative from ADAPT, a national disability-rights organization that advocates for the special-needs community. The sometimes pugnacious Guillen decided to become an advocate and moved to Austin to be near their local chapter.

Recent research — perhaps best popularized by the book The Brain That Changes Itself — is showing that the brain is incredibly adaptable. According to Brainline.org, missing or damaged brain tissue (say, a part responsible for understanding the guitar) can rebuild itself through a process called neurogenesis. And other regions of the brain can learn skills lost through damage in other quarters. And while the clubhouse approach intended to foster such rehabilitation is not new, its implementation seems to be lagging behind the immense need created by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even Trey's House — which currently serves around 20 people, including five veterans — is teetering on the abyss. As recently as 2010, about 50 sought solace here. It's been a challenge since day one. Opening inside Griffith's home before moving to a building off Blanco just south of Chris Madrid's, the operation has occupied no less than six properties in its four years of operation (one being the now-closing G.I.G. On the Strip on North St. Mary's). Staff members have been almost exclusively volunteer, partly because Trey's has never had much money, partly because Griffith only trusts long-term acquaintances or people directly and indirectly affected by TBI. She has turned down professionals promising to make Trey's a million-dollar operation for fear it would lose its "humane" focus, she said.

Last year, Trey's also lost two of its largest funders: The Center for Health Care Services and the Civil Justice Foundation. The former cut 18 percent of its budget and the latter passed Trey's over for other grantees, citing a larger pool and fewer grants to award. After the loss of revenue, Griffith decided not to renew the group's 501(c)(3) status for 2012. Things seemed to be concluding for what the Brain Injury Association of Texas confirmed is San Antonio's only TBI-centered clubhouse.

Aside from the odd Stone Soup event and/or rummage sale, Trey's today is powered by little more than a donation cup present at every event. Since moving back to Griffith's home in October, Trey's has also been based at St. Mark's Episcopal Church downtown and at various members' houses. Yet the need for such programs is very real. "Every four minutes someone will have a brain injury in Texas that is not related to the military," Griffith said, citing a CDC statistic.

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