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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

"One of the biggest problems is that I'm not a fundraiser and I'm not an organizer," Griffith confessed recently. "[But] the biggest barrier all along is — and this is why we've always had to struggle — is because we've never been medical. We're not testing people and we can't provide quantitative proof that what we're doing is necessary. The funders out there want to see readable results. And how can the result be 'It's a very inexpensive way to provide a good life for someone with a disability'? It's real hard to put that on paper."

Hard, but not impossible. Don Griesmann, founder of the Charles "Poppy" Sharp Neighborhood Community Center and a New York-based online nonprofit fundraising consultant with four decades of nonprofit experience, has mixed feelings about Griffith's assessment. He believes that Griffith suffers from what he calls "founder's syndrome," which describes not knowing what one does not know about running a nonprofit. He points to Griffith's distrust of professionals, her belief that Trey's can run on as little as $30,000 a year, and the idea that clubhouse work is too abstract to quantify for potential funders. "She needs help assessing what is working and what is not, from jamming, games, art, and other activities," he said. "There are measurable goals and objectives."

Despite its many management fumbles, Trey's clubhouse approach is member-approved. Though Guillen's life remains unglamorous — he regularly changes jobs because he says he is passed over for promotions on account of his blindness; the bulk of his income comes from Social Security, disability, and food stamps (about $760 monthly) — he's grown in confidence and courage because of his time at Trey's.

On April 23, he was arrested in Washington, D.C., for protesting federal cuts to Medicaid with about 100 members of ADAPT, many of whom were protesting in wheelchairs. Guillen says he was cuffed in wrist ties, taken to booking, fingerprinted, photographed, and then released. It's something he would not have had the strength to endure if not for his time at Trey's. "The support, it turned me around," he said. "I used to be afraid of things — of people — because of my father. I didn't have anybody to show me the ropes. When I had problems, Margaret was there to help me."

And yet, there are positive signs that Trey's may be reforming at last. Griffith stepped down as director last month and Trey Ibarra, a 25-year-old UIW psychology grad, was named her replacement. Ibarra (members call him "T2") has interned with Trey's through the years and paid for his education using only Pell Grants and scholarship money, leading Griffith to believe that, "He's got the resources to find money where there is some."

Ibarra spoke to the Current of what he called "the miracle of Trey's House." As an intern, he said he watched more fearful members who often mumbled to themselves instead of talking with other members of the group gain the wherewithal to not only start holding conversations but even get behind the mic during the jam sessions. If Griffith understands the miracle, Ibarra believes he has the skills to grow Trey's non-exploitatively. "Our regimen of social activities helped these people grow their vocabulary, motor-function skills, and a sense of self," he said. "We're here to help. We're not here to make money off people with TBI."

Meanwhile Griffith, recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, said while she's passing the torch, she isn't leaving Trey's House. The cause is too important to her. She hopes to re-open in a public location in the fall, and hopes the new director can both raise the profile of TBI in San Antonio as well as put Trey's on a firmer foundation. "I'm not old, but I sure feel it," she said. "I'm going to be focusing on the advocacy work that we do. [I'm just] the jeans and T-shirt person that wants to make a paper-mache giraffe. I don't like the limelight. I never have."

So what will her new title be?

"I don't know," she said, chuckling. "Mom?" •

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