Beyond Therapy: SAU Alumnae Work Overtime to Empower


Claire Motto '14 is helping patients with brain injuries have purposeful lives

Claire Motto '14, '16 MSLP never was happy with the answer she had to give patients who had worked so hard to complete traditional therapy for a brain injury.

"If I am not back to work, what am I doing?" they would ask when they realized they would not return intact to their former lives. "Where am I going? What is next?"

Motto's only available answer to such questions was no answer at all.

"I just had to kind of shrug my shoulders, which is super unsatisfying," said Motto, a speech therapist at Genesis Health Systems. "Not only on a professional level, but you get to know these people and form a relationship, so it's hard to say ‘I can't help you anymore.'"

Motto and co-workers Missey Heinrichs, Michelle Owens '94 and Kami Holst '11, '14 MOT set out to find a solution. Last year, they launched Empower House to help former patients have a purposeful life after a brain injury.

Empower House is a part of the International Brain Injury Clubhouse Alliance. It is one of 30 brain injury clubhouses in the country, and the only one in Iowa. In the past year, Motto and her cohorts have attended training to learn about running the clubhouse model, which allows the members to be in charge, from deciding the hours they will be open to preparing meals and taking care of the facilities.

The skills these clients learn offer them a sense of belonging, and help prepare them to re-enter the workforce.

"Maybe a member will get a job at a restaurant because they cleaned tables or did dishes," Motto said. "Or in the bathrooms, we will use real towels instead of paper towels, because that creates a job for someone to do laundry. The whole point of Empower House is to foster purposeful engagement and build up function skills."

Empower House hosted an educational night this past January, and in February launched weekly meetings. Currently, members meet at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, and are making decisions about how the clubhouse runs and planning fundraisers. There is a working group of 20-25 people, including SAU faculty members Elisa Green, CCC-LSP and Jill Schmidt, who are helping Empower House get started.

"When you hear the term brain injury, by definition you think it's an injury and you get over it. But it's really a chronic condition because you have things day to day that affect you for the rest of your life," Motto said.

"Hopefully, they don't affect you majorly and you can get back to work, driving, and school. But for the population that it affects deeply, we can help those people."

For more information, visit or their Facebook page.

Claire Motto

Johnny McGee and his family

There were many career paths Johnny McGee ’24 OTD could have pursued. With a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science and a Master of Science in Exercise and Sports Psychology, he thought he would go into the sports industry. But his grandmother always lingered in the back of his mind.

Read More About OTD graduate...

Valentine Koros with her son

Valentine Koros’ ’24 is inherently empathetic and selfless. She can remember so distinctly the feeling of helplessness at the age of eight when she was unable to care for her diabetic mother.

Read More About Nano Nagle...

Leslie Waddle

Advocacy is embedded in Leslie Waddle’s ’24 MSW DNA. After 23 years in the military, she knows how to stand up for herself and – more importantly – how to stand up for others. But she felt like a piece of the puzzle was missing.

Read More About Army veteran...

So, what's next?

Are you ready to take the next step? Click on the visit button below to learn more about our virtual and in-person visit options.