Wood Cutting Mike R Inspecting

Above: Mike Rehbein in his workshop.

Ten years ago, the Rehbein family built a garage on their property and partitioned a section to house a woodworking shop for their son, Mike Rehbein. His passion for woodworking was realized when he attended BOCES in the mid-2000s. Today, Mike designs and builds birdhouses, napkin and phone holders, mug and wine racks, picnic tables, accessible furniture, and more! Almost everything that one sees in Mike’s workshop was made or acquired by Mike, including the tools and tool kits. Through great innovation, Mike designed mobile workstations that can accommodate more than one tool: each workstation houses two tools that can be rotated so that while one tool is in use, the other is idle beneath. He was gifted a large tool chest from an uncle and additional pieces by his dad. To complete his workshop, Mike installed a unit to remove dust and a wood stove to keep the shop heated over winter. At 37 years old, Mike has become a woodworking expert, adding wood burning and staining to his trade.

Mike R In Wood Shop

Above: Mike in his workshop.

What might surprise some is that Mike does all this with only the right hemisphere of his brain intact. At age seven, the entire left hemisphere of his brain was removed through invasive surgery to subdue a seizure disorder that started when he was four. This is where his care coordination and self-directed services come in. For many years, Mike has chosen self-directed services with the support of Southern Tier Connect. With the guidance of care manager Jessica Schifilliti, with whom Mike has worked extensively over the years, he receives a self-direction budget through OPWDD.

Further, Jessica has assisted Mike in accessing new services and providers and helps the family when guidance is needed to locate funding and reimbursements for self-directed services. Of the family, she says, “the Rehbein family is a delight to work with. They are open, and they trust my abilities. More than anything, they are fiercely independent. Mike is an inspiration—he always finds a way to achieve his goals.”

Mike with his mom, Crystal Rehbein.

Above: Mike with his mom, Crystal Rehbein.

As an adult with a traumatic brain injury, Mike excels with some guidance in his home, at his workshop, and with someone to help him advocate for his needs—Michelle Brickey has been helping Mike with some direct care for about six months. Michelle is a full-time community habilitation staff who has helped Mike increase his independence, manage his medical needs, and pursue his interests. Aside from hanging out in the workshop together, Michelle takes Mike out to the hardware store to shop for new projects, to appointments, community events, and where ever he needs to go. Quick to recognize Mike’s talent and passion for woodworking—with well over ten years of experience in the craft, Mike is at home in his workshop—Michelle suggested to Mike that he get his work out into the world. Together, they arranged to sell his work at various craft fairs and flea markets and have already started to plan their spring and summer. This has also brought much awareness of traumatic brain injury (TBI) to the community of Cortland, something that Mike and his family (with the help of Michelle) promote whenever and wherever they can.

So, if you are in the Cortland area, watch for Mike’s work at your local craft fairs and flea markets and support TBI awareness! And follow Mike’s Woodshop on Facebook to learn more about Mike’s work and where he will be selling.

Mike in the workshop showing off some of the things that he has made. Mike holding a custom-made mug and wine glass rack; at right: Mike holding a picture of a picnic table that he built.

Above: Mike in the workshop showing off some of the things that he has made. On the left: Mike holding a custom-made mug and wine glass rack; at right: Mike holding a picture of a picnic table that he built.