July 8, 2022 - The Longmoore family on the second year anniversary of Sierra’s accident by the site where the crash occurred.

Illuminating Traumatic Brain Injury Through Art, Education, and Advocacy

Change often happens quickly and sometimes unexpectedly, and in an instant, life can get turned upside down. This is one notion that speaks to the story behind a Lebanon-based nonprofit organization, Unmask the Invisible, co-founded by Lebanon residents Amy and Steven Longmoore, that illuminates the invisibilities of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and brings hope and support to those who are affected by it.

The nonprofit was spurned from unthinkable tragedy, when Amy and Steven’s daughter, a then 17-year-old Sierra Longmoore, sustained a traumatic brain injury from a horrible car accident in the summer of 2020. Sierra spent many weeks fighting for her life and months recovering at Dartmouth Health Children’s in Lebanon with the support of her medical team and family.

Sierra Longmoore at a book signing for “Unmask the Invisible / An Incredible Story of Faith, Family,and Miracles.”

Sierra Longmoore at a book signing for “Unmask the Invisible /
An Incredible Story of Faith, Family, and Miracles.”

Sierra’s accident was an unexpected and devastating event that changed the lives and routines of her whole family. Through it all, faith, resilience, and a dedication to helping others have sparked the passion and mission of Unmask the Invisible, which aims to provide inspiration and community surrounding TBI through art, education, and advocacy.

It is estimated that 5.3 million men, women, and children are living with a permanent brain injury-related disability in the United States today. Of those 5.3 million, there are countless more loved ones supporting these survivors who also experience trauma and need support. In light of this, Unmask the Invisible encourages and offers support not just for survivors, but also their friends, family, caretakers, or anyone who lives or works with a survivor. The stories and recovery journeys of TBI survivors are often both emotional and complex, which is why Unmask the Invisible works passionately to illuminate the full spectrum of aspects that impact each member of the TBI community. “One of the reasons we started the nonprofit was so we could meet people where they are at in their spiritual journey,” Amy says.

A strong sense of faith helped anchor Amy, Steven, and their loved ones as they weathered the proverbial storm through Sierra’s initial accident, her fight, and her recovery. Being presented with this challenge ultimately inspired the Longmoores to help other families who are experiencing similar difficult situations cope with and learn from their own storms.

Spiritual encouragement is one foundational support that Unmask the Invisible offers. The Hope Café, a web page dedicated to “feeding your spirit with little sips of hope” with artwork and inspirational quotes is one spiritual resource that the organization curates, along with links to a variety of other philosophical and spiritual resources, including music, poetry, movement, and reading.

The Longmoore family: (from left) Aspen (Sierra’s twin), Tanner, Steven,Tristan, Amy, Sierra, and Lindsay.

The Longmoore family: (from left) Aspen (Sierra’s twin),
Tanner, Steven, Tristan, Amy, Sierra, and Lindsay.

Amy, Steven, and the team that surrounds them (which includes Sierra, who is the nonprofit’s ambassador) are diverse in their expertise and experiences, from military service to healthcare specialties.

Justin Putnam, the nonprofit’s vice president, served in the Army as an engineer all over the country and the world for two decades. Advisory board member of the organization, Beth Pastor, has also dedicated much of her life to service, seeing patients for 45 years as a pediatric physical therapist. Board member Alex Giesing brings her passion for inclusive and equitable care to the table as a registered nurse who cares for the babies who need extra support in the Intensive Care Nursery (ICN) at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.

With backgrounds in care and service, the team members behind Unmask the Invisible are all strongly knit together by their passion to make a positive difference in the lives of TBI survivors and their families, which helps keep the freshly minted organization’s efforts chugging along smoothly.

The ways in which the 501c3, which according to their website “illuminates resources and support for families affected by TBIs,” approaches supporting the TBI community is unique and differs from other familiar organizations that are also centered around similar goals.

“[Some] organizations are more focused on incorporating physical activities such as yoga into recovery,” says Amy. “Some people cannot participate in activities like that, or it takes them a long time to get to a place where they can. Some people simply do not recover from traumatic brain injuries at all. We really try our best to meet people where they are at in their journey, as it looks so different for everyone.”

And ‘meet people where they are’ they will, as they are gearing up for an incredibly busy remainder of 2024 as the organization continues to grow and inspire others.

Thayer School of Engineering student working with a braininjury survivor on Unmask the Invisible’s Weighted Paintbrush Program.

Thayer School of Engineering student working with a brain
injury survivor on Unmask the Invisible’s Weighted Paintbrush
Program.

One exciting development in the works is a revamped website for the nonprofit. “Our new and improved website will provide visitors with a clearer understanding and breakdown of our programs and services,” Amy explains. “The site will be anchored by Unmask the Invisible’s three main pillars – education, resources, and family support. In this sense, education encompasses speaking engagements, reintegration and events; resources refers to scholarships, therapies and art-based initiatives; and family support brings spirituality and inclusion into the mix.”

The team have also been continuing to further develop ongoing initiatives, like “Paint It Forward”, an art-based program that provides inspiration and builds relationships. With 50 percent of materials for the initiative donated by Blick and The Home Depot, Paint It Forward provides survivors and their families with free at-home art kits (that are packed by volunteers) that promote creativity, healing, and fun at any stage of their journey. “Unfortunately, there was no art involved in Sierra’s recovery process in the hospital,” remembers Amy. “But art is so conducive to expressing emotion, and we want other families to experience its benefits.”

For survivors and their loved ones who enjoy flexing their artistic muscle in the company of their peers, the free “This Is Your Brain On Art” event coming up on September 28 is for them. Seasoned instructor, Jennifer Dube, will help participants create an inspired masterpiece that they will want to hang where it can be admired. While “This Is Your Brain On Art” is Upper Valley-centric for now, Unmask The Invisible is hoping that this program will span state lines and perhaps make a positive impact on those outside of New England someday. “They still have that creative side,” Sierra says of survivors of TBI. “Anything they can achieve, to any degree, is incredible. No matter what, they are unstoppable and embody the fact that you can persevere.”

Of course, as a fledgling nonprofit that relies heavily on grants and donations for the important work they do in the community, fundraising is also top of mind as things grow and expand. “Since our inception, we have been really focused on opportunities to get our name out there in front of people that don’t cost us anything,” Amy says.

Recently, participating in Green Up Days around the Upper Valley wearing matching branded t-shirts to garner awareness for the organization and its cause was one such opportunity. And of course, encouraging people to follow and share Unmask the Invisible on social media, as well as give their time and talent by volunteering, helps greatly to spread awareness for the cause. “We were able to raise a few thousand dollars last year to fund our various programs, which has definitely been helpful,” Amy says. “But we need to raise more to be able to bring to life the big ideas we have for the future of the organization, like in-person retreats and scholarships for crucial medical equipment.”

The newest and biggest undertaking this year, which will see all proceeds going directly back to the nonprofit, is the first annual Unmask the Invisible Softball Tournament, which will take place on Sunday, July 21st at Civic Memorial Field in West Lebanon. Co-ed teams of up to 14 players can register to play for a fee of $350 per team.

Unmask the Invisible volunteers participating in Hanover, NH Green Up Day.

Unmask the Invisible volunteers participating in Hanover, NH Green Up Day.

Participants and spectators alike can look forward to bat and 50/50 raffles, concessions, live entertainment (you’ll have to swing by the event to find out who!) and more over the span of the tournament. The enthusiasm surrounding the upcoming event is palpable, especially as far as Sierra is concerned. “Sierra was a three sport athlete who made it on her varsity softball team freshman year of high school,” Amy says. “Sports used to be a huge part of her life.”

“I am really excited and happy that we are having the softball tournament,” Sierra adds. “The fact that it will include people with TBIs and the people who love and support them is so important.”

How is Sierra doing close to four years post-accident, you may be wondering? She’s certainly busy these days juggling working part-time and being an ambassador for Unmask the Invisible. Not to mention, she and her mom have been making stops at local libraries recently for book signings of Unmask the Invisible, a book they wrote together about Sierra’s journey and overcoming the challenges of TBI through faith, family, and miracles.

Above all else? “I am excited to be a voice for others so we can shine a light on their experiences,” Sierra says.

For more details on all of Unmask the Invisible’s upcoming events around the Upper Valley, to register your team for the first annual softball tournament, grab your own copy of Unmask the Invisible, and learn how you can get involved, be sure to visit the nonprofit’s website, unmasktheinvisible.org.

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