• Meet Our Board

    Jenice Watson

    Executive Director

    My dream is to help connect even just one person. If I can help give someone hope, find authentic connection and feel supported, I will have succeeded.

     

    As a tired, overwhelmed young mom whose son had just received a new diagnosis, I struggled a while in what I called "the fog." We had a diagnosis, but it was very grey and matter of fact with no answers. We were told "we will see what happens" more than we would have liked. The waves of grief, in the loss of what we thought his story would be and the realistic unknown of what was to come, were really isolating and lonely. Therapies and appointments, days blurring into nights - a playdate was out of the question. All these large medical terms and services- with no one to turn to. I tried to reach out on social media but my words would get lost in an algorithm. It wasn't until a chance meeting- in the rain at a park with my two little boys and a brand new puppy, I literally ran into an angel. I so badly needed connection, and this chance encounter with a woman saved me. Without me saying a word - just answering a few yes or no questions about my newly diagnosed son West, she put her hand on my arm and responded, "My boy is 19 years old, playing the drums and in college. If you don't limit him, he can do anything." That single connection made me realize how, with the right support and connection, this world of diagnosis didn't have to be so isolating and I could learn so much more from others who have experienced this journey.

    Michelle Amussen, MOT & OTR/L

    President of the Board

    As an occupational therapist specializing in working with children, my mission is to help my clients lead meaningful lives. This could mean anything from helping a child meet his or her developmental milestones, gain independence with self-care skills, or pursue a meaningful hobby. I believe in working with children using a holistic perspective of building upon the child’s strengths, meeting the child where they are at (emotionally, physically, and mentally), and using their interests and innate wisdom to help guide our sessions.
     
    One of the biggest indicators of success in therapy is a child’s support system. As an OT, I have had the opportunity to work alongside some pretty incredible caregivers, therapists, and advocates. There is something special, though, about a parent and their child feeling completely seen and understood by someone who has walked in their exact same shoes. Someone who understands the journey with a diagnosis because they have lived it. A Buddy Just Like Me is exactly the place to find support, connection, and a sense of community. I whole-heartedly believe that it will change lives. I am honored to be a part of this mission and stand alongside this vision.

    Brittney Ellingson, BCBA

    Board Member

    My passion is to help people and their families. This passion grew out of my own experience being raised with my older sister who was born with severe brain damage. Combined with over 15 years of professional experience in the field of special education, I feel very comfortable evaluating the behavioral, educational and special needs of individuals with a variety of diagnoses.

     
    I watched my parents struggle to make informed decisions for my sister, and it was difficult to find any support system. As the younger sibling of someone with a disability, I grew up very quickly and jumped into a default caretaker role by the age of 3. I'm excited to connect with other siblings on this platform; ours is a unique experience, and we don't often have a platform to share our thoughts.
     

    Charlene Johnson

    Board Member

    Long before my days of being a stay-at-home mom of 5 children and a very part-time substitute teacher, I was a public relations professional and loved writing, planning events, arranging media interviews and being involved in the community. Most recently, even though it really isn’t that recent, I was the public relations director of Special Olympics Utah and absolutely loved being a part of such an amazing organization for truly incredible people. I actually met my husband at the Special Olympics Utah Winter Games in 2002 in the thriving non-metropolis of Beaver, Utah (think VERY small town USA) – he was a volunteer coach for the Weber State University Special Olympics Team and believe it or not, approached me with a pickup line! It worked! The special needs community has been near and dear to my heart ever since.

    Nearly 20 years later, we have five beautiful children, our youngest of which has Cerebral Palsy. He had a stroke in utero and was diagnosed just before his first birthday with right spastic hemiparetic cerebral palsy. Because of his disability and my background with Special Olympics, our family has gotten involved with and volunteered for many organizations that serve those with special needs. We love giving back to the communities that have given so much to us through our CP journey.

     

    If I ever have a spare moment when I’m not subbing, volunteering at three schools, teaching piano lessons, shuttling kids to basketball, swim, voice lessons, play practice, etc., and helping out with ABJLM, I love to sing, play the piano, play and coach tennis and basketball, travel, watch a good rom com, make others laugh, cook (and eat!), and take naps! We love to go on family adventures and road trips, and we love using my son’s National Parks access pass to explore nature and earn Junior Ranger badges. Laughter is a staple at our home, and we love connecting with new and old friends!

    Rick Reigle, PT & DPT

    Board Member

    I graduated from the University of Utah in 2007, with a degree in Exercise Physiology and then graduated in 2013, with a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree. I started my pediatric physical therapy career at Primary Children’s Hospital, working in inpatient rehabilitation services, then moved onto Neuroworx, where I was able to create a Pediatric Therapy program, and now I am the Director of Rehabilitation Services at Shriners Children’s Salt Lake City.

     

     

     

    I am a member of: The American Physical Therapy Association, the Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy, and the American Physical Therapy Association of Utah. I have also held leadership roles in these organizations, including: Utah State Pediatric Advocacy Liaison, Utah Pediatric Special Interest Group Chair, and Utah State Pediatric Representative. I have also served on several committees in Utah to further expand the reach of therapy services, including: Committee Chair for the Pediatric Neuro-Rehabilitation Fund and Committee Member for creating a Pediatric Physical Therapy Residency Program at the University of Utah. I have also had the privilege of being a speaker at State and National Pediatric Physical Therapy Conferences.

     

    Throughout my career, my passion has been to advocate for patients, families, and pediatric therapy services in Utah. All of my opportunities and experiences have provided me with a strong background in bringing people together and leading them to the most optimal outcomes. I am so excited to join the Board of A Buddy Just Like Me!

     

  • Our Advisory Board

    Dr Michael Green, DO

    My name is Mike Green. I am an attending physician at Primary Children’s Hospital where I manage an inpatient and outpatient pediatric rehabilitation service. I care for children with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injuries, neuromuscular disorders, spinal cord injuries, peripheral nerve injuries, torticollis and many other physical disabilities. I get the honor and privilege of working with many kids and young adults. I love that I get to help improve the lives of the incredible people I get to work with.

     

    One of my favorite parts of being a pediatric rehab doc is seeing people achieve the many things they didn’t think were possible. I have seen amazing improvements in my patients over my 8 years as a Rehab Doctor, and I love that I get to be a part of their individual journeys. I get to believe in them when they don’t always believe in themselves.

     

    I am Board Certified in the American Board of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation in General Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation; Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine Subspecialty; and Brain Injury Medicine Subspecialty. I am also currently a leading member of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the Pediatric Community and on multiple other executive committees.

    I love to travel whenever I get the chance. I have been to over 30 countries, and I plan to visit many more. I love spending time with my beautiful wife, “G,” who I have been married to for 6 wonderful years. I also like to hang out with my friends and go on walks with my two dogs, Karma and Nola.

     

    I am so excited to be a part of “A Buddy Just Like Me” and help connect with and support this community.

     

    Jan Black, PT, MSPT

     

    I am the cofounder, Vice President, and clinic director at Neuroworx, a nonprofit in Sandy, Utah providing after-hospital rehabilitation and supplemental programs for adults and children with neurologic diagnoses. I have the privilege of managing a team of amazing clinicians that provide physical, occupational and speech therapy to the many we serve. In 30+ years as a physical therapist, I have had the opportunity to practice in various neuro healthcare settings. I learned very quickly that no two individuals nor their recoveries are ever the same. This shaped my clinical path and career mission to treat the individual, not the diagnosis. With this, the need for specialized, custom therapy while eliminating the financial barriers to care was evident and the impetus for creating Neuroworx. Beyond the clinical duties, I oversee our student internship program, coordinate our clinical research efforts, assist with fundraising, and guest lecture for local Doctoral Physical Therapy programs.

     

    My greatest joy is being a mother and spending time with my family. As a recent empty nester, I enjoy running, hiking, biking, traveling, reading, and gardening.

     

    James Norris

     Handi Capable Fitness

    My name is James Norris and I’m the founder of Handi Capable Fitness but I’ll share more details about that later.

     

    Here’s just a little bit about myself and how I got where I am today. I was born three months premature. I weighed 2.5 pounds and measured 11.75” from head to toe; that’s shorter than a Velveeta box. I stayed in the hospital for three months. About a month after being released, I was rushed to the hospital to undergo an emergency hernia surgery. During the procedure, the tube that was to deliver my oxygen was not taped to my mouth; I moved during surgery and was deprived of oxygen for five minutes. At the time, it was unclear if I was going to survive. By the grace of God, I did.

     

    Before my second birthday, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP). There are many different types and severities of CP; my type affects my legs and left arm, leaving me with poor balance and limited use of my arm. As a child, I had many surgeries on my back, ankles, hips, and hamstrings, each with the goal of loosening the muscles to increase range of motion and flexibility. This, of course, was followed by years of both physical and occupational therapy and thanks to these heroes I was able to use braces and a walker.

     

    Growing up in Boston I was a HUGE sports fan , so my parents got me involved in Challenger baseball and basketball. I immediately fell in love. Every Friday night, I became either Mo Vaughn or Michael Jordan. It was that passion for sports that lead me to the Connecticut School of Broadcasting after graduating high school.

     

    I had the privilege of working at a local Boston radio station for five years and I loved it! Then I had the opportunity to head west to California where I worked for a production company for a year before being laid off.

     

    At the time I was crushed because radio was all I knew and all I wanted to do! This lead to a major stint with depression and weight gain. Looking back this was a major blessing because it set me on the path I’m on today.

     

    I’ve since found fitness and have lost 65 pounds but it goes far beyond the physical benefits I can honestly say I truly believe fitness saved my life by opening up doors I never even thought of as of today I’ve completed several Sparten Races, rock climb, play sled hockey and practice jujitsu.

     

    I realize how blessed I’ve been so that’s why I founded the nonprofit organization “Handi Capable Fitness” our mission is to help handi capable people live a fit and active lifestyle however they define it by connecting them with access to both qualified fitness professionals and the equipment needed to do so. We want to show them that just because they have a “disability” that doesn’t mean it defines them in fact we want them to feel empowered and see it as their superpower.

     

    In closing this is why I absolutely love and support the work A Buddy Just Like Me is doing and I’m excited and humbled to be on their advisory board. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously!

     

  • OUR VISION

    A world where all individuals can safely and easily make meaningful connections and create supportive communities