Since 1991, the Penn State Mont Alto occupational therapy faculty have had the consistent goal of dovetailing classroom learning with community outreach and engagement. Secondary to the generosity and collaboration of local agencies and non-profit organizations, the occupational therapy assistant students have gained valued skill sets and been touched deeply by the relationships formed with residents of all ages in Franklin County.
An 8-week experience with the residents of Trinity House Senior Housing Center is focused on creating a mind, body, and spirit wellness experiences twice weekly. During this experience, students tap into the skills they have acquired in the classroom related to planning, coordinating and leading group sessions focused on health literacy. Themed activities may be a Vegas casino night, planting bulbs in the garden or healthy meal preparation.
One resident said, “I look forward to every winter when they come. It gives me something to do each week and breaks up my winter blues. We really miss the activities they plan after they go.”
Since 2017, the OTA students have been completing a faculty-guided fieldwork experience at Noah’s Ark Child Care Center, with children from six weeks to twelve years in age. Dr. Angela Hissong, Program Director states, “We were looking for meaningful hands-on experiences to strengthen students understanding of child development with the two-fold goal of increasing students’ knowledge of children’s primary occupation of play while becoming comfortable engaging with young children." Over a 12-week period, occupational therapy assistant students are interacting and developing activities that focus on motor, sensory, cognitive and psychosocial aspects of play. These typical child development experiences help the OTA students develop valuable take away lessons regarding developmental milestones, redirection techniques and creation of meaningful occupations for young children.
The students also engaged in two new community service experiences this year focused on making persons lives brighter through mindful acts of kindness. The first student developed experience focused on raising money for THON via the Lavender for Lil’ Lions project, where they made car and home fresheners from organic lavender & hand stamped muslin bags raising $650 in its first year. 2nd year OTA student, Morgan Lafoe, is challenging the next cohort to raise $1000 for 2021 THON and hopes to see the tradition grow each year to support children with pediatric cancer.
The second experience was an extraordinary 5-hour event called Night to Shine, where OTA students were partnered with a buddy for an unforgettable prom night experience, for people with special needs ages 14 and older. Caitlyn Zeger, OTA2020 stated, “I will never forget this experience and am looking forward to being a buddy for many years to come.”
Simply put, we are grateful that the community supports the occupational therapy assistant students with building lasting memories with folks – for these are the experiences that touch their hearts and prepare them for practice.