Natalie Barnhard: Making a Difference

Making a difference

by | Aug 23, 2022 | blog

Passionate about making a difference.

After my spinal cord injury and the years of rehabilitation that followed, I learned firsthand how hard it was to fight for the services, support and even the essentials I needed for my recovery.  The knowledge that other people living with spinal cord injury (SCI) were experiencing the same struggles sparked something in me. It reignited my lifelong passion to give back and make a difference.

Could I do something to lessen those struggles for people with SCI? Could this be a way to fulfill my passion?  I believed I could, but I knew that when it comes making a change, the first step always seemed to be the hardest; knowing where to begin, how to begin and when to take the leap.

Taking the first leap.

Establishing the Motion Project Foundation was the beginning. I created the nonprofit with the vision to provide quality-of-life grants to people with SCI. To date, we’ve raised over $350,000 and awarded grants to dozens of people. The grants help pay for — or offset — the costs for wheelchairs, medical equipment, rehabilitation therapy, as well as home and vehicle modifications.

As I’ve shared in a past blog, I dreamed about creating a recovery center here in Buffalo, NY. A center with a fun, welcoming and supportive atmosphere where people with life changing injuries would have access to resources, support, and specialized rehabilitation.

I believed that my background as a physical therapist assistant along with my life experience living with a SCI gave me a unique perspective to create something truly special. But once again — I had to figure out where to begin. How to take that first step and make that leap.

Putting fear aside.

After many years of my own ups and downs and medical scares, I finally felt mentally and physically ready to go. I just had to take that leap of faith, even though I was scared. And yet, I knew that God would not let me fail because he had shown me — through my injury — that this was my purpose in my life.

I worked hard, developed a business plan, and worked with my board of directors to bring my dream to light. I carried on, staying true to my vision and in time found the perfect location for the beautiful center that I had been dreaming of!

Setting the project in motion.

We started the buildout in a vacant space where I could be creative and make the center look and feel like a bright, modern gym. I didn’t want people to feel like patients coming to therapy, but instead to feel like a client coming to work on their overall health and wellness.

When everything started to fall into place, I experienced an incredible feeling of joy and sense of achievement. I couldn’t wait for people in our community to start getting the help they needed. We opened the doors to the Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery last year.

What we do.

Currently, Motion Project serves clients with spinal cord injuries as well as those recovering from traumatic brain injuries and living with conditions like stroke, spina bifida, transverse myelitis, and multiple sclerosis.

We offer intensive Activity-Based Therapy which focuses on recovery and healing of the area below the level of the injury in the spinal cord. We use locomotor training, specialized robotics, adaptive equipment, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, and vibration to create an intense exercise program specific to each client.

What’s next.

My latest project is a program called CARES which stands for: Community, Advocacy, Research, Education, Support. My goal is to have a range of  services to help our clients with every aspect of their well-being and recovery process. For example, we will be offering mental health services for both the individual as well as for families.

Our collaboration with University of Buffalo will help us in several ways. It will provide valuable learning experiences for students in their PT and OT programs and help develop important research opportunities through the center. We’re also fortunate to have an invaluable information and resource partner in the Western New York Chapter of United Spinal Association.

It’s exciting to think about the future of Motion Project Foundation, especially now with the center.  It’s truly changing lives. We hope to grow and one day provide a full continuum of care for individuals facing these devastating injuries so they can live their best lives.

About Natalie Barnhard

Natalie Barnhard, PTA, LMT, is the president and founder of Motion Project Foundation, a non-profit organization in the Buffalo, New York area. Motion Project provides financial assistance for individuals recovering from a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury and neurological disorders. A wheelchair user since she sustained a spinal cord injury in 2004, Natalie is also the founder and executive director of The Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery.