If you’re a working parent with zero time for anything else (because two full time jobs is plenty, right?), you should meet Julia Creech. Julia is a Physical Therapist Assistant at Saint Joseph Hospital in Bellingham. She has three kids and two grandkids. In her “spare time,” she plays soccer and runs marathons.
Julia is a busy problem solver. After finding a dearth of products to display her marathon medals, she started Marathon Memories n’ More, a local business dedicated to eternalizing life’s priceless triumphs and benchmarks. But it is Julia’s most recent endeavor that has the power to eternalize her story and, much more importantly, the survival, independence and triumph she stands for.
In the summer of 2014, Julia founded Kids in Motion Therapy Clinic (KIMTC), a nonprofit which provides both in-home and center-based speech, physical and occupational therapy to children with neurodevelopmental disorders throughout Whatcom County.
The clinic grew organically, finding roots all the way back in Julia’s first career as a professional horse trainer in California. After a pelvic injury, her husband’s retirement from the U.S. Air Force and her family’s eventual relocation to Washington State, Julia and her family decided to raise service dogs. Julia loved training animals and wanted to spend more time at home with her children, so it was a perfect fit. What Julia didn’t expect was how inspired she would become by the simple way service dogs impact peoples’ everyday lives.
Enter: Rocky. Rocky was supposed to be trained as a Certified Assistance Dog for a person in a wheelchair. Rocky, however, just couldn’t pass the final test. He was perfectly behaved inside the house, but outside, the overwhelming desire to chase sticks got the better of him every time. So, Assistance Dog was out. But Julia isn’t one to give up, especially not on someone with such spirit! They switched gears and began working on Rocky’s therapy dog certification. He was a perfect fit.
When Rocky was invited to visit a young woman in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the hospital, everything changed. After a horse riding accident put her in a coma, she was starting to wake up. Her family asked if Rocky could be there, hopeful his presence would comfort her. Rocky sat diligently at her side, paws up on the bed so he was right at eye level. The moment she saw Rocky, her eyes lit up.
After that, the young woman’s physical therapist and occupational therapist requested that Rocky be present for all her therapy sessions. As Rocky faithfully assisted her toward health, the hospital’s Pediatric Occupational Therapist began to take notice, eventually asking if Julia and Rocky would be able to help in the Children’s Neurodevelopmental Program (CNP). It was working there, alongside Rocky, that Julia saw how great the need was for children’s therapy services.
Julia was already working on her prerequisites for the Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Program at Whatcom Community College with the intent of becoming an outpatient sports PTA, but she was so deeply moved by the impact Rocky and the CNP therapists had on children’s lives, she knew her direction had to change.
But in November 2013, Rocky fell ill. Shockingly, that same week, Julia was diagnosed with cancer. After hormone therapy and multiple surgeries, Julia beat cancer. Beloved Rocky, however, did not make it. It was a heartbreaking time for so many whose lives had been transformed by Julia and Rocky’s unwavering commitment. Of course, Julia and her family felt it the deepest, but Julia had to keep going.
When Rocky passed away, she and her daughter got matching tattoos of his name. (Their tattoo artist was the father of the first patient that Rocky had helped at CNP.) Rocky became the reason and inspiration for Julia’s next mission: continuing the work she and Rocky had started together and taking the next steps of advocacy, awareness and expanding access, so that all children who need therapy have therapy.
With Rocky’s passing, Kids in Motion Therapy Clinic was born. Immediately, Julia wanted to go buy equipment and find a space to house it all. But a Speech Therapist she worked with suggested, “Let’s do it from the home first.” Neither of them realized how ground-breaking this idea would be.
Many of the kids who need therapy are from large families or single parent families. Having to pack up the whole family, haul them across town and keep them occupied for an hour, just for one child’s therapy session isn’t always realistic. Now imagine if more than one person in the household has weekly appointments. These types of situations make it extremely challenging for families to meet their children’s therapy needs.
Home health services allow the therapist to come to the patient. The therapist and the child meet for an hour of therapy. The therapist brings therapy balls and games, while also integrating items in the home environment, which facilitates carryover. The parents are taught the routines, which when repeated provide better and more thorough results. Also, by giving families the opportunity to work on daily “therapy homework,” parents have another way to strengthen their relationship by working toward a common goal.
In addition to unwittingly tackling the common disconnection between home and therapy, Kids in Motion Therapy Clinic fills a critical care gap in Whatcom County by providing therapies to children whose families wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.
Most insurance companies only cover a handful of visits per year. This is where Kids in Motion steps in. KIMTC doesn’t prioritize private insurance over state insurance. With the proper funding, KIMTC would be able to take this even further. The goal is to be able to provide therapy regardless of insurance payments. If a child is near a breakthrough, such as being able to speak or walk, they should be able to continue with needed therapy to reach these important milestones, regardless of their family’s finances.
The importance of getting kids therapy in a timely manner cannot be overstated. Kids move through developmental milestones like rolling, crawling, walking and skipping very quickly. Without timely intervention to meet these “windows of opportunity” for each milestone, disabled children are robbed of more and more pieces of the meaningful, fulfilling, independent lives they all deserve.
The reality, however, is that without selfless inspirations like Rocky and envelope-pushing go-getters like Julia, these stories don’t get shared and the most vulnerable children among us suffer. Julia and Rocky have started something crucial with Kids in Motion, but it will take all of us to make the difference.
This November is Kids in Motion’s second annual Reach for the Stars Gala. The Gala is KIMTC’s biggest opportunity to raise funds for direct services and spread awareness about neurodevelopmental disorders and the need in Whatcom County. The first Gala in 2016 raised over $8,600, which has supported the clinic over the past year by providing the therapists’ salaries and equipment necessary for high quality therapy.
Join Julia and KIMTC on November 4 from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. at Bellingham Country Club to carry on Rocky’s legacy and support their life-changing work: bringing therapy to the children in Whatcom County who need it most.