Nicole Giron was the first employee hired when Michael Crawford, PhD, began assembling his staff for the Munroe-Meyer Institute's Department of Recreational Therapy in 2001.
Now, she's the director of the department.
In March of 2001, Giron arrived in Omaha from Boulder, Colorado. She had one degree in psychology and another in fine art, and she was looking for opportunities in art therapy when she met Michael Crawford, PhD.
Dr. Crawford was in the process of staffing the recreational therapy department at MMI to serve the needs of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Giron was his first hire.
"When I learned about recreational therapy, it really just checked all the boxes for me," Giron said. "There's such enormous potential for really serving the whole person -- teaching adaptive skills, prosocial behavior, reducing stress, anxiety and isolation while helping people to build confidence and more fully engage in their communities."
Giron was one of three full-time therapists when she started working in the program -- now there are 11. The department has moved from a "handful" of core programs including the beloved summer camp and adult evening programs to an array of offerings such as a biking club, a cooking club, the popular theater camps, group outing activities and more. Giron began as the volunteer coordinator, with less than 100 volunteers to help with programming that first year. Now, the department has more than 500.
Though she has what she calls her "babies" -- the cooking and gardening clubs, which have allowed her to teach a farm-to-fork program for the past 15 years -- Giron has helped build the entire department. And as she officially assumes the title of director of recreational therapy -- with the new building opening up in 2021 -- she has plans to build even more.
An adaptive sports league, utilizing the new gym. Adaptive swimming lessons using the new pool. A yoga program. A running club. More opportunities for people to participate in the arts.
"I am thrilled with our new building, and it's an honor to have the opportunity to program in that space," she said. "We're hoping to have more robust program in the areas of the arts, as well, since we will be getting two kilns for the building, a glass kiln and a pottery kiln.
"The other facet that's important to me is that notion of whole-family programming, such as a family swim night, or a family yoga night, or a family movie night, to build our community. Sometime families say it can be isolating to raise a child with an intellectual/developmental disabilities. So we want to look at ways we can support the entire family and have parents participate as a means of the community coming together."
Some of these ideas have been around for several years, Giron said, but the new building has made them possible. And the new director is excited to make them real.
"I feel like the sky's the limit," she said. "I'm excited to partner with our boards, our community members and our families -- and am very fortunate to work alongside such a talented and committed team -- to make these new opportunities possible.""
So proud 🤗 Congratulations!!! 💕
Congratulations Nicole! Nice job!
Congratulations Nicole! You are an exceptional asset to the Rec Therapy Dept, and to MMI!
Congratulations, Nicole! There is no one better for the job than you.
Congratulation Nicole! Thank you for your dedication and passion to this important work.
Excellent news! You make UNMC and MMI and the MSIA program proud! Congratulations Nicole!
Congratulations Nicole, very well deserved. I have enjoyed working with you over the years and my children have enjoyed volunteering for you over the years!
Congratulations, Nicole! The Rec dept is in good hands and MMI is so fortunate to have you!