Serving the Rogue Valley Community with Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley

March 21, 2023
by Brea Brown, Howard University Occupational Therapy Fellow at Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley

As an occupational therapy (OT) student studying at Howard University, I have learned about the many ways an occupational therapist can increase safe independent living through home modifications. The spring semester of my second year at Howard University, I gained the opportunity to fulfill a fellowship with Rebuilding Together that allowed me to express my knowledge on providing home modifications to people in need. I was partnered with Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley located in Medford, Oregon. Serving Josephine and Jackson counties in southwest Oregon, the small team at Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley covers 4,444 square miles of land holding approximately 312,080 people. Kendyl Berkowitz, the executive director of Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley, and Jim Pierce, a certified aging in place specialist and state licensed contractor with Goodwork Services LLC., work diligently to provide home modifications to people in need living within the area.

From left to right: Katie Alexander (Manager of National Programs and Partnerships at Rebuilding Together National), Brea Brown (Howard University Occupational Therapy Student), Kendyl Berkowitz (Executive Director of Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley)

Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley focuses on providing home modifications to people who are homeowners, identify as low-income, are 65+ and/or live with a disability. Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley creates an opportunity for the community to safely age in place which is very near and dear to the practice of occupational therapy. Currently, falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries while also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and trauma hospital admissions for older adults. Specifically, “more than 6,000 hospitalizations occur each year related to falls among older adults in Oregon” (Chisholm, 2019). Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley assists in preventing in-home falls by installing a plethora of home modifications such as grab bars, railings and porch repairs.

Throughout my week of visiting the Rogue Valley affiliate, I had the chance to demonstrate my knowledge and understanding of how the home environment can enable or limit a person’s ability to perform their daily activities that are meaningful and necessary to them. While visiting client's homes, I worked side by side with Jim and provided insights of how people interact with their environment and the importance for promoting safety.

In addition to Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley’s aging in place initiative, Rogue Valley is located in an area that experiences a high volume of natural disasters. This issue gained my attention due to knowing that occupational therapists have a role in disaster relief and obtain tools to aid in moments of crisis. Oregon also receives a significant amount of rainfall causing the foundation of homes to rot, roofs to leak and mold to grow. These issues can cause physical health to decline, and an increase of falls creating unnecessary medical bills. During my visit, I also noticed that many houses were placed on steep mountains and acquired steep stairs to get into the home. Many of these stairs had no railings and collected ice during the colder months. I immediately thought that railings for both sides of the steps and rock salt in efforts to melt the ice would be important interventions for occupational therapists working here to recommend for their clients’ safety. With railings and rock ice, clients can safely enter and exit their home, increasing community participation and independent living. 

Overall, Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley provides resources to what Kendyl describes as “a forgotten population.” By filling the resource gap, the community gains the ability to live a high-quality life. As an occupational therapy student, I am grateful for the opportunity to exercise my knowledge on home modifications and practice advocating for clients in need. In the future, Kendyl aspires to extend assistance to the recently incarcerated, single mothers and the LGBTQ+ community which are communities that obtain a high existence within the Rogue Valley area but yet experience limited resources.

From left to right: Jim Pierce (Certified aging in place specialist and state licensed contractor with Goodwork Services LLC.), Nick Bignham (Goodworks LLC. team member), Zack Bignham (Goodworks LLC. team member), Brea Brown (Howard University Occupational Therapy Student)

Rebuilding Together's Howard University Fellowship program was made possible through a Rural Capacity Building grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). We are thankful for HUD's commitment to affordable housing and community development activities in rural areas.

Portland State University. (2020). Jackson and Josephine counties profiles. Oregon Health Authority.