joy and fascination, amid struggle

Last Friday, I had the privilege to visit the Krempels Center in Portsmouth, NH. It has taken me this long to sort out, not only what I want to say, but how I want to communicate with you all about my four hours spent with the staff, interns, and members at Krempels. Those hours were packed with learning and emotion for me.

So! In polite, clinical language: The Krempels Center provides educational, therapeutic and recreational activities for people living with traumatic brain injury. Participants are called “members,” rather than “patients” or “clients,” and the emphasis is always on members helping each other to heal, with the support of trained clinicians and UNH interns. The organization relies on a variety of donations and sponsorships to maintain and develop its mission.

In human terms: The Krempels Center is a space filled with love, energy, curiosity, passion, and the warmest spirit of community I have experienced in a long, long time. (And I’m a theatre person, so I’ve been around a lot of “love fests”–believe me, this was the biggest!) Founded by David Krempels in 1995, during his recovery from a severe brain injury sustained in a harrowing car accident, the Krempels Center provides a place for people to go when their injury has isolated them. This was a compelling part of David’s own story (which I was honored to hear from the man himself that day!). He wanted to help fight the loneliness and loss of hope that he experienced himself as a result of his injury. That depression he described arises from the physical injury and further complicates the brain’s attempt to heal. David’s work certainly aided his own healing–he is the quietly charismatic force that energizes the staff and membership at Krempels. Everywhere he went during the course of the day, he gently interacted with members and they reacted like flowers in the sun. Although he tries to downplay the attention showered on him, and constantly affirms to each member that they are the heart of the operation, no one can deny that the love he inspires is well-deserved. Just sitting near him feels great!

But the membership definitely follow his lead, even when he’s not around. The group activities at Krempels, whether specifically therapeutic or more casually recreational, all help a person living with a brain injury to heal by stimulating their ideas, their emotions, and their bodies in a socially-supportive environment. Members talk to one another throughout the day, notice and congratulate each other on their progress, create art projects together, and have the chance to go on group outings in the nearby community. This is a place to learn to accept who you are in this moment, and also to envision and pursue growth.

Krempels is also a place of difficult stories. Members I met last week had suffered catastrophic falls, strokes, vehicular collisions, and allergic reactions that caused the brain to swell. Some members’ injuries baffled their doctors and remained mysterious. As one member with a marked difficulty finding words (aphasia) said, “It goes. But then you just go.”

I can’t describe the grace and the tenderness I saw in every interaction at Krempels. All words become clichéd in the face of so many specific acts of courage, performed daily, out of necessity. My engagement with Krempels came about through my research for the Make Sure It’s Me theatre project. And my visit surpassed my hopes in that regard–my colleague Stephanie Nugent and I have made lasting partnerships there, with specific plans to incorporate Krempels’ staff and membership into our MSIM outreach events. But my participation won’t end when my show closes–it can’t. This is an organization–a tapestry of individuals–performing immensely important work.

I want to be in on that! Don’t you? Visit for more information.