Jon Huffman – Class of 1982
Director of Rehabilitation and Orthopedic Service Line, Carolinas HeathCare System Blue Ridge

I feel like I grew up at East Burke; it has always been home to me. My dad, Larry Huffman, was a longtime coach, and my three older brothers took part in sports and other activities. I always felt that East Burke was bigger than just a school. It was made up of people who inspired me. I remember when the high school kids would visit the elementary schools for various events. I especially looked up to the athletes. I would often pour over EB yearbooks and pick out photos of the student athletes who I admired, and I would memorize their jersey numbers. Looking back on those days has made me realize that high school students don’t often know the impact that they can have on younger ones.

Because I had spent so much time around the older students and had tried in many ways to emulate them, I felt like I already had an identity when I arrived in high school. I wanted to model my behavior after them, but at the same time I wanted to be my own unique self. Today I want to try to do the same for the younger generation. As an active participant in the STRIVE program, sponsored by Kiwanis International, I hope that I am making a similar impact. STRIVE stands for Students Taking a Renewed Interest in the Value of (their) Education. It is a motivational program for high school juniors and seniors who want to improve their current grade point average and qualify for scholarship money provided by the Burke Development Institute. A similar program for younger students is called Terrific Kids; STRIVE differs in that it helps older students make plans toward the future and toward productive careers. I am a frequent visitor to the STRIVE meetings at school, where I help by serving as a facilitator. I don’t want the young people to copy me or think that they should go into the physical therapy field because I did, but I want them to be encouraged to find their own paths, each one becoming his or her own person. I want to inspire them to identify with people but not become them. It comes full circle, as that is very much what I did as a young person looking up to the older students.

East Burke shaped me in other ways as well. I participated in football, wrestling, and baseball and was a member of the student government, the Latin Club, and the National Honor Society. Aside from my parents, Larry and Louise Huffman, both educators, there were other teachers who left a lasting impression on me. Coach Danny Williams was naturally an inspiring role model for me, as he was for so many others on and off the field. Mrs. Lillian Pendley is another good example. She taught us to be independent thinkers – to think for ourselves instead of doing things just because others told us to. It’s a valuable skill that I still use today. Mrs. Lucille Bond was another teacher that had what I call “IT.” When I left her math class, I always felt like she had made me a better student. I also enjoyed the choral music program directed by Mr. Jim Williams. I like to say that he taught me not only about music but also about grace. I remember a time when I was scheduled to go with the choral group to an event but asked him if I could instead play in an important ball game. Of course, he would have preferred that I go with his group, but instead of lecturing me, he had the grace to tell me he understood and found another student to go in my place. I have not forgotten the way that he handled that situation – calmly and kindly. I still enjoy singing, and I have continued to participate in community groups, especially when Mr. Williams has been directing. One summer during high school, I was able to attend Governor’s School in the area of choral music, which was an excellent learning experience as well.

After high school, I decided to pursue a career in physical therapy. It was in many ways closely related to the field of physical education with which I had always had such close bonds. It also was a way to merge medicine and teaching, as much of physical therapy and rehabilitation centers around instruction. I also saw a need in this geographical area, as at the time there were few practicing physical therapists in the region. Physical therapy as we know it today was started to help injured military personnel after World Wars I and II, so it is a relatively new area of medical science. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy from UNC-Chapel Hill and worked as a therapist for 29 years, including in outpatient clinics, mostly specializing in muscle and joint injuries, as well as in home health. Four years ago, I began a new career in healthcare administration that permits me to apply a lot of “lessons learned” over the years in working with people and addressing a challenge.

In my current job as Executive Director of Rehabilitation and Orthopedic Service Line at Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge, I have oversight of the rehabilitation and pain management services at the Blue Ridge facilities. The Orthopedic Service Line follows the patients and the doctors through each step in order to provide a continuum of care for our patients. Our programs involve everything from cardiac rehab to therapy after surgery or injury. I also work in a supervisory role with Phifer Wellness Center, helping them to evaluate programs, decide whether to modify existing programs or facilitate new ones to meet the changing needs of the community. Whatever the area may be, we must decide if there is a possible need for a new program or a modification, if it is financially viable, and if it is sustainable.

A good physical therapist is part teacher, part coach, part facilitator, and part encourager. Each patient is different, and at the beginning stages, it is important to establish good communication in order to determine the best process for that person. I learned quickly that one must not jump to conclusions about the patient and must conduct a careful interview in order to understand his or her particular mindset and needs. For me, that aspect of the job is both the most challenging and the most rewarding. The challenges lie in properly caring for the physical needs of our patients while being considerate of the social and emotional impact on the person and their family and friends. But the rewards lie in being a part of the recovery process and seeing the patient return to an active lifestyle. In my role as an administrator, I am grateful to be part of a healthcare system that seeks to be the provider of choice for the community. One of my major goals is to help build the healthcare system that the people in this community deserve.

My personal passion is to continue to encourage students to develop core values thought the Terrific Kids program and to grow as individuals as they consider career options through the STRIVE program. I consider East Burke High School to be my home. I grew up there, and it is my privilege to continue to do my part to make it a place of learning, of growth, and of inspiration.

Published November 2019

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