April 2003 - Founder Presented with Brain Injury Award

Fran Rooker, president and founder of The Jason Foundation, was presented “The Emily Couric Award” on April 26, 2003 during the second annual brain injury conference for Southwest Virginia held at Radford University.  Presenter Teresa Poole, president of Brain Injury Association of Virginia, Roanoke Valley Chapter, read excerpts from several nominations, which Ms. Rooker received.

The award was established in 2002 to honor the memory of state senator Emily Couric who was instrumental in gaining approval for the Commonwealth Neurotrauma Initiative. The initiative provided for significant financial resources to be placed in a special trust for programs and research for traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

Nominees are selected from within the Commonwealth of Virginia with particular attention given to those candidates from Southwest Virginia who have made unique contributions through their advocacy, leadership, commitment and service on the behalf of brain injury survivors.

The following are three of the submitted nominations:

1.

“Fran Rooker took what has to be the most devastating tragedy a mother can face...the loss of a child…and turned it into a crusade to help others.  Her tireless energy, deep passion and single-minded focus has done more to advance the cause of those with brain injury and their families than anyone else in the state of Virginia.

“Her efforts to establish The Jason Foundation to provide information and help for survivors and their families; and Brain Injury Services of SWVA to help provide services and case management for survivors have been a God-send to folks in Southwest Virginia.”     

                                                            Linda Wyatt, Roanoke City councilwoman
                                                            and brain injury survivor caregiver

2.

“When people say, ‘whom do you think about when it comes to brain injury?’ Fran Rooker comes to my mind almost immediately.  Bonnie and Clyde; Thelma and Louise; Rimbaud and Verlaine; Fran Rooker and brain injury.

“As a survivor of a gunshot wound to the brain of the severest magnitude, I can only guess what was running through Fran’s mind approximately three years ago when she introduced herself to me at the Brain Injury Town Meeting in Roanoke.

“She was there to give a speech about the shocking number of people with brain injury falling through the cracks of the hospital system.  I was there, brain-addled and frantic (as only the brain injured know how to be!) to deliver a speech on the possibilities of starting a kind of grass roots, community based organization in the great big city of Radford, VA.

“I thought I had a great chance of really stirring things up; walking clumsily up there practically in front of the whole brain injury community.  Little did I know that a feisty and fiery-eyed Greco-Italian woman had already beaten me to the punch.

“Introducing Fran Vickers Rooker, a lovely human being.  She married Greg Rooker and begat three healthy children, two girls and a boy.  The boy’s name was Jason and by all accounts he was very special. He had the ability to make you laugh with his twinkling brown eyes.

“One summer day, Jason, the Rooker’s only son, was playing with a toy lasso and accidentally hanged himself.  Can you imagine losing a child like that?  

“Grieving beyond belief and having seen the callous way insurance providers treat people with brain injuries; how society often treats them like the great unwashed, how practically nobody in the New River Valley had experienced such a thing, the Rookers decided to create The Jason Foundation.

“Helping people with brain injuries and their families by ensuring there is an advocate there to help you better understand the intimate aspects of the stages of recovery.  Making sure families and survivors get appropriate care from insurance companies and to integrate survivors into the community.  Helping them live productive lives.

“The Jason Foundation found Brain Injury Services of SWVA, a remarkable community service that has helped tremendously survivors in Roanoke and the surrounding areas.

“Fran serves on the BIS of SWVA board along with several other people whom are familiar with brain injury.

“BIS of SWVA, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Fran, now has a pediatric program. She works with the Virginia Brain Injury Service Providers Alliance and the Disability Commission. Most recently, she’s been working with us some on the pediatric program; and she will be on the Advisory Team for the Pediatric Brain Injury Program here.

“Community is a powerful, good word and Fran Rooker, that feisty Greco-Italian with a lion’s heart and the soul of a blessed saint, serves the brain injury community well.”

                                                                        John Seaberg, Survivor
                                                                                    Radford, VA

3. 

“Since the death of her 10-year-old son, Jason, from the effects of an anoxic brain injury in 1997, Fran Rooker has devoted the great majority of her time, energy and emotional commitment to improving the lives of those living with brain injury. 

“Within 10 days of her only son’s death, Fran responded to a couple from Virginia Beach whose son suffered a brain injury similar to Jason’s.  They had learned of the proposed “Jason Foundation” from an article about Jason’s death in the Norfolk newspaper.

“With that family, Fran began providing support services within the brain injury community and she has never taken her hand off the throttle.  Brain Injury work has become a means for Fran to give meaning to Jason’s life, injury and subsequent death.

“Beginning with the establishment of The Jason Foundation, which provides information, advocacy, referral and limited financial assistance, it didn’t take Fran long to realize that the brain injury community of Southwest Virginia needed more.  To meet that need Fran founded Brain Injury Services of SWVA in 2000 to provide long-term service coordination and life skills training.

“The following is an outline of Fran’s involvement, as I know it:

  1. Founded The Jason Foundation in Radford and operated it solo for three years
  2. Founded Brain Injury Services of SWVA
  3. Submitted and lobbied HJR21/SJR190 bills to study Virginia Brain Injury Central Registry through the General Assembly
  4. Through The Jason Foundation contributed $340,000 to George Washington University as seed money for the establishment of GWU Center for Education and Human Services in Acquired Brain Injury
  5. Through the GWU Center helped set up a Distance Learning Program for Radford University and subsequently the University of Hawaii and others
  6. Spends hundreds of hours and drives thousands of miles annually taking an active role as a board member of the following agencies:

Virginia Brain Injury Council
            Virginia Alliance for Brain Injury Service Providers
            Brain Injury Association of Virginia
            Brain Injury Services of SWVA
            The Jason Foundation
            Advisory Board - Roanoke Valley Chapter of BIAV

  1. Member of the initial and subsequent Transcending Brain Injury Conference Committees

2002 – Chaired Exhibits and Volunteer Committees, member Emily Couric Committee
2003 - Chaired Exhibits Committee

  1. Worked on and at both Southwest Virginia Invitational Golf Challenges

  2. Helped establish and continues to sponsor New River Valley Support Group
  3. Works an average of 45 volunteer hours per week on brain injury activities
  4.  Has spent 10 days in Richmond lobbying the General Assembly for increased Brain Injury fundin

“In all, Fran spends most of her waking hours caught up in some aspect of brain injury.  She has personally counseled and assisted close to one hundred brain injury survivors and their families in places as close as Pulaski and as far away as Puerto Rico.  On average she attends more than 20 meetings per month involving her work with brain injury.

“In her many involvements she has worked in the trenches not just in command posts.   In meetings I have attended with her she’s usually the first to volunteer for additional duties.  She has been known to clean and mop as well as to assume leadership positions.  She speaks out on brain injury whenever an opportunity presents itself and often when it doesn’t.

“As her husband I have accompanied Fran on this journey.  Watching her has always been inspiring and at times tiring. And while I may get some of the credit for certain of these activities I can assure you, Fran’s the steam that makes our brain injury turbine run. 

“I’m there largely because she is.  And she seems to always be there.”

                                                      Greg Rooker, Co-founder The Jason Foundation


 

 

 


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