Brain Injury Survivor Helps Those with PTSD and Disabilities
Steve Adubato goes on-location to the 2018 Russ Berrie Making a Difference Awards to talk with a prize winner Melissa Gertz, Founder of Community Justice Center in Trenton, about the struggles she faces every day due to a traumatic brain injury and how her organization helps advocate for New Jersey’s veterans and other disabled individuals dealing with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries.
"Recently, I was on location at the Russ Berrie Awards for Making a Difference. There, we met a 2018 honoree with a very special story. Here now is that conversation. My name is Melissa Gertz, I am the Founder and Executive Director of the Community Justice Center. We are a legal services nonprofit in New Jersey, we just represented our 650th client. To quote Cornel West, "Justice is what love looks like in public." What has always called to me most, even as a child growing up in New Jersey, was not just the distaste for injustice, but an imperative to do whatever was in my power at that particular moment to rise above and against it. It drove me to law school and to choose Rutgers School of Law in Newark, because of its legacy of inclusion and integrative approach to social justice and civil rights, that all oppressions and isms are one and the same. In the Summer of 2004, in the midst of law school, I was interning at a civil rights organization in the Mississippi Delta, when life decided to rudely interrupt. In short, I was t-boned by a truck, and nearly died. But I didn't. Instead, after countless surgeries and rehabilitation, I was left with a face full of hardware that felt and looked like more like the inside of a piece of electronics, extremely limited vision, and the most important and devastating of it all, Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI. Meanwhile, veterans have been returning from deployment with TBI. Everyone knows this, in large part, because of the light cast by Bob Woodruff after his own injury while embedded. But what everyone doesn't know, are the endless battles they face upon return, within themselves, and to get the benefits and treatment they rightfully deserve. Without it, we all know the outcome - suicide. But we don't all quite understand why. But I did. And in New Jersey there weren't any legal services outfits to help. The question is not, "Why did I start the Community Justice Center?" The question is, "How could I not?" My rescue dog Kenna and I have become quite the dynamic duo. Returning veterans and others dealing with PTSD and TBI, find the comfort of Kenna, coupled with my personal experience, compelling, and are much more open about their own struggles. And the real kicker, she was rescued just a few miles from my car accident 1,300 miles away. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? I feel like this says it all. Our clients don't have the..."