Harleen Sidhu was looking for a volunteer opportunity that involved children and found a perfect fit in Madonna’s Kit Scott Therapeutic Learning Center (TLC). Interacting with different students in the TLC has fascinated Harleen, 21, who has logged 45 volunteer hours since September. “Seeing these kids improve is the best part,” said Harleen, a member of the Husker women’s basketball team.
The 6-1 senior forward from Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, has struggled with her own physical injuries over the years. Although her ankle and knee injuries were tough, she said it’s no comparison to the life-altering diagnoses these young patients face. “I’ve seen the dedication and hard work the kids put into their rehabilitation,” said Harleen. “It’s very inspiring.”
During the past few months, Harleen has tutored children in math, reading and played a lot of board games. “It’s all been fun,”said Harleen.
Harleen’s parents are originally from India and she is believed to be the first Indian female to play basketball at the NCAA Division I level. A nutrition science major, Harleen plans to apply to medical school after graduation this spring and focus on a career in anesthesiology.
Rafael Tatay doesn’t remember the 1998 accident. His mother Shawn was driving Rafael, then 14, to his horseback riding lesson. A semi-truck driver ran a light at a busy intersection in Lincoln, Neb., and hit the passenger side of the car where Rafael sat. He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, was comatose for ten days and had surgery to relieve the pressure on his swelling brain.
Rafael spent more than five months recovering at Madonna before he returned home. The formerly gifted student, who used to play clarinet, sax and piano, struggled to communicate. “I got my share of being called slow,” said Rafael. “But, I never had any hard feelings.” His parents hired tutors for their son. “Brain injury is different from other disabilities,” said Shawn. “It’s hard relearning executive functioning.”
Thanks to his strong work ethic and devoted mentors, Rafael graduated from Lincoln East High School, attended Southeast Community College and earned a degree in social work from Union College.
The outgoing, charismatic 28-year-old counts his blessings: he can ride a bike, has a great personality, enjoys his computer, Android phone and is a whiz at math. A perfect night for Rafael is going to Crescent Moon to hear poetry and listen to jazz. But, his short-term memory is compromised. He can’t drive. He lives with his parents and is working hard on being independent.
Rafael loves his volunteer role as the book cart monitor at Madonna. “I like meeting the all different people, making them smile,” said Rafael, who decorates the cart for holidays. “When it makes their day, it makes my day!”