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Dr. Crawford to retire after 20 years at MMI

Image with caption: Michael Crawford, Ph.D.

Michael Crawford, Ph.D.

As an assistant professor of therapeutic recreation at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Michael Crawford helped to establish the Hattie B. Munroe summer camp for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), as well as the first year-round recreational therapy programs at the Munroe-Meyer Institute: an afterschool special recreation program and a Saturday morning gym and swim program.

About Dr. Crawford

Dr. Crawford's 45-year career achievements in recreational therapy include national awards in research and service from the American Association of Leisure and Recreation and the American Alliance of Health, Recreation, Physical Education and Dance. He holds research fellow status in both the National Academy of Leisure Sciences and the National Association for Recreational Therapy and was recognized as one of the top 25 most influential researchers by the American Association of Recreational Therapy in 2020. He has authored 45 publications in professional and scientific journals as well as multiple textbooks, including the top selling "Introduction to Recreational Therapy," which has just gone to its fifth edition in 2020. He has presented papers at 63 national and international conferences in the fields of recreational therapy, adapted physical education, adapted aquatics and rehabilitative medicine. His lifetime grants and series contract awards exceed $12.2 million.

As Dr. Crawford prepares to retire 38 years later, after spending the last 20 years as director of the department of recreational therapy at MMI, all three programs still serve the IDD community.

In his two decades as director of recreational therapy and associate professor at MMI, Dr. Crawford oversaw unprecedented growth, transforming the department into a national model program. Over time, Dr. Crawford:

  • increased funding for adult services by more than 300%;
  • transitioned the department to a true lifespan service;
  • increased the number of dedicated programs from eight to 27;
  • tripled the operational budget and staffing; and
  • oversaw fundraising campaigns which added outdoor barrier free playground and water park facilities as well as a model adapted cycling program.

His 20 years at MMI have seen grants awards of $3.3 million and he has administered additional direct service contracts of $7.8 million. He marshalled support from boards, foundations and private donors, as well, allowing him to greatly expand recreational programs for individuals across the lifespan.

"Dr. Crawford had a remarkable career and leaves behind a lasting legacy," said MMI Director Karoly Mirnics, M.D., Ph.D. "Without his efforts, the MMI Department of Recreational Therapy would have never risen to its national prominence. It is equally important to point out that he has touched all of our lives -- families, trainees and colleagues alike. We wish him the best in his future endeavors wherever they may take him."

With increased programming efforts came the need for increased volunteer services and over time the recreational therapy department created the largest service-learning program in the state, with more than 500 annual volunteers providing more than 13,000 service hours to MMI. Many former volunteers have gone on to careers in health and human services and continue to work in the IDD field.

Dr. Crawford also contributed to the academic mission of MMI by establishing a professional student internship program in recreational therapy that has trained 51 students from nine different universities in the past 17 years.

Dr. Crawford extended the MMI mission to the public schools by developing a copyrighted social skills training curriculum for youth with autism and delivering long-term therapeutic recreation services to the students of Westside and Millard public schools. The curriculum has enjoyed adoptions in Japan, Canada, England and Australia. Today, the only recreational therapists delivering public school services in Nebraska are MMI clinicians.

Dr. Crawford said he leaves an incredibly talented and eclectic professional staff in place who administer a department with the most curriculum offerings available for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the field of recreational therapy in the nation.

What others are saying

"Our family has been involved with the Munroe-Meyer Institute for over 27 years, starting when our oldest son, Greg, was 5 years old. Greg has special needs, and MMI has enriched Greg's and our family's lives in many ways. My wife, Kelly, and I have worked with Dr. Crawford for many years, and it has been a pleasure doing so.

"Michael is a kind and thoughtful man, and we have seen MMI grow significantly under his leadership and administration. In addition to Greg, our other sons, Sam and Scott, both volunteered at MMI, and Sam worked summers there for several years. From time to time, Dr. Crawford would call me, and we would discuss ways in which Greg could get more out of his programs, and how our other sons could grow in their roles. It was refreshing that he would take the time and effort to provide this feedback.

"We wish Dr. Crawford the very best in his retirement and are excited for him as he enters this new chapter in his life."
-Josh Bates

"Our daughter has participated in Camp Munroe for 35 years, and it is somewhat of a second home to all our family. Dr. Crawford has done so much to make the programs more prominent within the institute and a model nationwide.

"Michael has been so instrumental in fundraising that has enhanced the facility and greatly widened the programs for adults. We so appreciate the many programs for adults that give our daughter a social life that was not at all available to adults previously. Dr. Crawford has been a national leader in the training of not only his staff, but the many interns who come from all over the country, the thousands of volunteers and the future health care professionals who spend time at camp. His attitude toward individuals with disabilities is so positive, and it rubs off on everyone around him and changes the professional lives of many. I also will add that MMI taught me how to treat my daughter like a regular child and a child who loved to play, too, rather than a child I had to treat with way too much protectiveness.
-Judith Quest

"Dr. Crawford is just an amazing person. From the start, he knew how to get the programs we needed up and running. He had a vision for what the department could be. Also, he sees the value in all people, and he is driven to provide for people like my son -- look at all the programs he created, all the wonderful things people can do at MMI. He cares about us. My son, Chad, has always loved all the things we could do at MMI. For him, coming to MMI was like coming home. Dr. Crawford was a lifeline for us. And our family will always have a special place in our hearts for Dr. Crawford. Thank you!"
-Cheryl McSorley

"The Hattie B. Munroe Foundation has partnered with Dr. Crawford over the past four decades in the visioning and advancement of innovative programs and services for children and youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. The focus and energy he has brought to ensuring the success of these programs has been greatly appreciated. On behalf of myself and the Foundation, we wish Dr. Crawford well in his next chapter."
-Steve McWhorter, president, Hattie B. Munroe Foundation

"Dr. Crawford is dedicated to the education, health and wellness of individuals with IDD and he has championed the importance of providing essential resources to our families. His leadership and collaborative efforts have helped the MMI Recreation Therapy Department improve our delivery of care and build effective alliances with our community partners. He has not only been a respected mentor but a dear friend and colleague who will be sincerely missed by our team and families."
- Nicole Giron, interim director of the MMI Department of Recreational Therapy

"Dr. Crawford was instrumental in taking the MMI Recreational Therapy program aka Camp Munroe and expanding it by establishing year round programs and initiating programming for individuals over the age of 21. He assembled a great team, all working together toward a common goal to make the MMI Rec Therapy program into the success it is today."
-Mary McHale, president, Meyer Foundation for Disabilities

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