NEADS Visits Cushing Academy

Alexis Courneen with assistance dog Sooner -- Photo by Cushing Academy

On September 19, NEADS visited Cushing Academy, a private secondary academy located in Ashburnham, MA. During the all-school assembly, NEADS CEO Gerry DeRoche and NEADS clients Alexis Courneen and Chris Maddeford were given the opportunity to educate students about the mission of our program and its impact on people who have a disability — particularly veterans. They shared the stage with Kenneth Fisher, Chairman of Fisher House Foundation, an organization that builds homes on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers, which enable family members of military personnel to be close to a loved one during hospitalizations, illness, disease, or injury. There are currently 54 Fisher Houses across the United States and Germany, and none require a fee to stay for any length of time.

It was a very powerful day for the students, who learned a great deal about the veteran experience. On their website, Cushing detailed the events of the assembly, paying particular attention to the stories of our clients, Alexis and Chris:

Relaying her story of such a transformative experience, Alexis Courneen spoke about her return home after suffering a traumatic brain injury while serving as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. “The hardest day of my life was not my injury. It was the day I received my exit papers. My life changed that day. I lost my military family. I lost my dreams. I lost who I thought I was.”

After several years of intense speech and physical therapy,

Ms. Courneen was put in touch with NEADS to explore the help of a balance dog. “My life took on a whole new meaning after I was matched with Sooner. Service took on a whole new meaning, too. I got my military family back. I go to schools, I visit veterans, I go out in public. I’m teaching people about what I can do and how I can do it. My new life is still service, but now it’s bigger and more beautiful.” In addition to Sooner, her yellow lab, Ms. Courneen lives in Connecticut with her husband and their two daughters.

Echoing her testimony, veteran Chris Maddeford relayed his rehabilitation story following an IED explosion and how his life changed after NEADS provided him with his black lab, AJ. “Before AJ I didn’t have a life. I felt hopeless. But once he came to me that all changed. Things I couldn’t do, I can do now. But in addition to helping me physically, I feel like I have a team again with AJ.” Mr. Maddeford is currently pursuing his education in Chicago with his fiancée.

You can read the article in full here.

Sooner stands by Alexis Courneen -- Photo by Cushing Academy

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