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Community Impact

Meet a Champion: Abby Nelson, growing TR across Rosecrance

Nelson is looking toward the future of behavioral health and how she can guide Rosecrance there.

When Abby Nelson joined Rosecrance, she had zero experience working with people in recovery and aspired to be a basketball coach. She never expected to be in her current position as a Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator.

After spending time with clients at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Campus in Rockford, the coach began to feel more comfortable and confident in her abilities. She realized that her coaching skills were valuable assets and started to contemplate her future role in behavioral health and working with clients who are in recovery.

I had no experience in recovery. I was 23 years old and thought I knew everything. I knew nothing. Finding my way and that language took a minute. It did not happen overnight, and it continues to evolve,” Nelson said about her journey into behavioral health.

She knew she didn’t have the clinical expertise needed in her position, so she decided to solidify her career at Rosecrance and in the behavioral health field by returning to school to earn the necessary credentials. With nearly 20 years of working at Rosecrance and making a difference in the lives of the many clients she has helped, she’s looking toward the future of behavioral health and how she can guide Rosecrance there.

Therapeutic Recreation is based on the principles of self-discovery and creating opportunities for small victories. It’s not surprising that Nelson derives immense satisfaction from observing the incremental progress of her clients. She applies this same approach in her daily work at Rosecrance, where she leads the organization’s innovative transformation in behavioral health.

“Therapeutic Recreation is growing. As it starts to gain credibility in holistic health, I truly predict an uptick in Therapeutic Recreation services,” Nelson said.  “And Rosecrance is already doing it.  We’re sort of trailblazers in behavioral health.  It’s a big part of what we’re doing here.”

She feels fortunate to be a part of an organization committed to weaving Therapeutic Recreation into treatment. Though some of Therapeutic Recreation’s activities to aid clients’ healing may appear fun, they’re “methodical and intentional and prescribed in our approach.”

She continues to champion perseverance, and she’s expanding Therapeutic Recreation across the Rosecrance network by finding a way to repeat the success the treatment has had in Rockford to Iowa, Champaign, and outpatient therapy.

Nelson knows that building from the ground up takes time, but it’s a practice she has come to know well. She’s learned that persistence makes a difference, a lesson she’s learned working with clients and leading them toward lasting recovery.

Sometimes we feel like we are not actually making a difference because you don’t know what’s going on in a client’s head. Just because you don’t see it or see it right away doesn’t mean that they won’t see it days or months later,” Nelson said.

She maintains the same attitude toward the growth of Therapeutic Recreation. Every day, she moves one step closer to achieving her goals. Some days may prove more difficult than others, but she shows up every day prepared to face the challenges that come her way. Embracing these challenges and their impact on others helps her to continue to evolve and show up for her clients daily.

“The commitment for me comes from the idea that if we are truly committed, we have to be here physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in every way possible,” Nelson said. “You’re investing in a human being, in their story. If you’re not here for it, it’s a disservice.”

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