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Luber ‘gives back’ through healing center

By Erin Cohen
of The Chronicle staff

November 19th, 2004

Michael Luber says that when you have a disability, “people often say you cope so well and do so many things.”

Luber, 41, who has muscular dystrophy, said that he has received “a lot of support from people,” and views his position as coordinator of the Pathways to Healing program, a service of Jewish Family Services, as an “opportunity to give back.”

Luber has held his position for about a year, during which he has been working to launch the healing program.

“We’re just getting it off the ground,” he said in an interview during National Disabilities Awareness Month, which runs Nov. 15-Dec. 15.

Pathways to Healing allows people to explore the questions they have about spirituality while also dealing with mind and body issues, Luber said.

The program, which is funded by grants from the Helen Bader Foundation and the Jewish Outreach Institute, is intended to offer support to individuals and their family members who are coping with an illness in a spiritual way.

Some of the services include seminars and classes, counseling and support groups, healing services using Jewish prayer and meditation to provide comfort, and a resource library with computer access where people can conduct their own research and find out about treatment options that are available to them.

Luber also talked about the program’s bikkur cholim (visiting the sick) element, which helps synagogues and other Jewish groups to train volunteers to be effective visitors to people at home, in hospitals, or long-term care facilities.

Pathways to Healing also has a Web site (www.pathwaystohealing.org), featuring program listings, calendar, and useful links.

According to Luber, when people get sick, they “commonly turn to spirituality. People start asking questions when faced with a loss or illness.”

In the past, Luber said that spirituality and religion were often “steered away from” in such situations, but “in the last five to 10 years, spirituality has become more incorporated into the process.”

Luber was born with muscular dystrophy, which is a very slow degenerative muscle disease. In fourth grade, he required a wheelchair, and in sixth grade he moved to an electric one.

By 1992, Luber said he began to have trouble breathing, which started to affect his sleep.

“Gradually over time, you start to lose function,” he said.

In 1994, at age 31, Luber needed to be placed on a ventilator, and underwent a tracheostomy, requiring him to be on a ventilator full time.

Luber called the changes a “very hard adjustment,” but they “helped tremendously.” After the procedure, he said he had “a lot more energy” and was able to do “a lot more.”

It was during this time that Luber finished his doctorate in psychology and also met his wife, Lisa, to whom he has been married for five years.

Coordinating the program has not only allowed Luber to “help others cope with illness and tradegy,” but it “also helps myself,” he said.

“It allows me to be a productive part of the coping process.”

Prior to joining JFS, Luber was in private practice for seven years and taught courses at Waukesha County Technical College, but decided he wanted the opportunity to “reach out to more people.”

To develop Pathways to Healing, Luber said that he first needed to conduct a community needs assessment to find out what types of services would be most useful. This was the “hardest thing” to do in planning the program, because the needs are always changing.

“It’s important to hear from the community,” Luber added.

There are “a lot of things I can envision” for the future of the program, said Luber, such as lecture series and yoga and tai chi classes.

In addition, Luber said “we do a lot of information referral. If we can’t provide a direct service, we’ll do whatever we can to find someone who can. There are a lot of good resources in the community.”