By Laurie Cooke, BS, ETS, CBIS
Rainbow Rehabilitation Centers

When I asked Kairis Dupree what was her favorite thing to do during her free time, she shrugged and replied, “Relaxing at home.” If you walk through her home, you can imagine the time and effort she took to make it into a place of comfort and tranquility. Her walls are beautifully highlighted with pictures and decorations reflecting her relationships with her fiancé, family and faith.

Her path to happiness hasn’t been an easy one. Kairis was 12 years old when she was struck by a drunk driver while crossing the street to meet with friends. She recalls, “I was under the car and dragged a couple of blocks.” She sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in addition to other physical complications.

As a result of her TBI, Kairis experienced significant behavioral and emotional changes including disinhibition, physical outbursts and impulsive behavior. While she participated in rehabilitation through outpatient programs, her behavior led to trouble with the law.

In the summer of 1993, Mariann Young, Ph.D. had just started working at Rainbow when she ran into Kairis’ social worker at a conference. Knowing that Kairis was not doing well at home, the social worker commented that it was unfortunate that Rainbow did not have a residential program for pediatric patients. Due largely in part to this suggestion and knowing that the needs of children are quite different from those of adults, Dr. Young developed a full Pediatric Program which included a residential program and outpatient day treatment programs specific for children, adolescents and young adults with TBI. In 1994, Kairis joined Rainbow’s new pediatric program. Through her participation in the pediatric programming, along with the support of her mother and grandparents who regularly attended family therapy, Kairis increasingly developed her ability to control her behaviors and discuss her emotions. Kairis proudly graduated from Farmington High School in June 1998. She also progressed from requiring a more structured and supportive residential placement to settings with increased amount of independence.

Eventually, Kairis transitioned from the Pediatric Program to Rainbow’s Young Adult Program where she was active in vocational therapy. She participated in various community work groups accompanied by a job coach. In these groups, Kairis worked as a stock clerk assisting customers in the fitting rooms, organizing shoes and clothes, and returning unwanted items.

In 2000, she transferred to Rainbow’s Adult Program in Ann Arbor, MI. She continued with her vocational therapy and participated in community work groups that were established in the area. One of her work groups was at Border’s Warehouse where responsibilities included unloading and organizing books, stocking books onto shelves, assisting with book labeling and pricing, and janitorial tasks.

Claire Jenkins, Kairis’ job coach, described Kairis as “a hard worker who was very meticulous and conscientious.” Following her work at Border’s, Kairis continued with the supported employment program working as a stocker, warehouse worker, assembly line worker, general laborer, and custodian. She required job coaching to assist her with social pragmatics and behavioral control, but she always demonstrated a strong work ethic and completed quality work. Based on her reputation for being “meticulous,” Kairis took pride in the additional tasks that were assigned to her.

As she progressed through the adult program, Kairis had a desire to obtain competitive employment. She put forth an effort to learn job seeking skills such as; drafting a résumé and cover letter, completing paper and online applications, and learning interviewing skills. She was receptive to assistance and feedback, experiencing a few speed bumps along the way, but she strove to achieve her goals.

In 2016, Kairis applied for a position at the YMCA in Ann Arbor. During her interview, she was honest about her past struggles and the lessons that she had learned along the way. She was hired for a laundry position that included assisting with janitorial tasks as needed. She currently works five days a week for a total of 20 hours, and she maintains her employment with the YMCA. Kairis has displayed an exceptional job of handling issues and job retention aided by regular check-ins from job coaches at Rainbow and by utilizing her support system established at the YMCA.

Her YMCA supervisor, Chris Biggs, stated, “We couldn’t ask for a better employee. She works hard, she is dedicated and has developed relationships within our community. Watching Kairis grow in her professional and personal life has been inspirational and a joy to all of us here at the Y. She has quickly become part of the Y family.”

Kairis stated that one of the most significant blessings in her life is the relationship with her fiancé, Anthony. Kairis met Anthony when both were involved in active rehabilitation at Rainbow, and they quickly became friends. Their relationship blossomed, and they were engaged in 2010. They are each other’s greatest support system, and when both of their mothers died, they were there for each other during those dark days. Kairis stated that they enjoy “shopping, watching movies, and going out to eat.” Anthony is an excellent chef, and Kairis doesn’t hesitate to admit that he cooks most of their meals.

Throughout her recovery, Kairis maintained a strong commitment to succeed. She has achieved personal and professional goals and continues on her path toward continued happiness.