A summer of service

After three semesters of classwork, Carol Marcus’ students in Durham Tech’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program turned theory into action with summer service-learning projects. The close-knit class of 10 students broke into smaller groups to devise, plan, fund, and implement three different projects to benefit the populations they hope to work with upon graduation. The projects were completed as part of the course, Professional Skills II.

According to Marcus, “These service-learning projects give students the opportunity to work under the supervision of an occupational therapist and to practice positive workplace behaviors: showing initiative, using time management and organizational skills, and functioning as a member of a health care team. The projects required students to use effective verbal and written communication skills, while promoting occupational therapy in the community. They practiced giving and receiving feedback so they could develop conflict resolution skills within their work groups. These projects gave students the chance to demonstrate and use so many different skills required in the workplace; it was a very good fit for the curriculum of the Professional Skills course.”

A garden to see…and smell…and touch
Three of the students worked with the PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) Program to design and install a sensory garden for the program’s participants. PACE delivers all needed medical and supportive services to seniors with chronic-care needs. The students – Jessica Ridenhour, Chastity Whittington, and Marjorie Martell – wanted to create an indoor garden for the program participants that was not only pretty to look at, but could also be enjoyed with the other senses. They held yard sales to raise funds and solicited donations for supplies from area businesses to build two raised planter beds, filling them with plants to see, smell (lavender and mint), and touch (lamb’s ears). Enlisting the help of the PACE participants, the students made signs out of popsicle sticks and puff paint to identify the plants used in the beds. “We used annual and perennial plants, and we created an instruction manual so they could keep the garden blooming every summer,” explained Ridenhour. Seniors at the PACE facility were also involved on the day of the project, crushing recycled cans and bottles to provide a drainage layer in the bottom of each planter, filling the planters with soil, and planting the various plants.


OTA student Chastity Whittington helps a PACE participant create signs for the planters.

Carnival with a cause

Another group turned its attention and considerable energy to stage an event to benefit the Gateway Clubhouse in Raleigh. Gateway is a rehabilitation day program for traumatic brain injury survivors. Students Donna Godwin, Tabatha Baber, Pat Karrigan, and Dee Wood put together a carnival to raise money for program scholarships for individuals with acquired brain injuries and to give its participants a Saturday of fun — yet accessible — activities. Karrigan said, “We funded the carnival with community begging, getting donations of raffle prizes and supplies to create carnival games that were appropriate for Gateway clients.” The activities ranged from a wheelchair cake walk, face painting, and crafts, to a raffle and a caramel apple station. One very popular game at the carnival was a clever modification on corn hole using recycling bins, toilet seats, and rolls of toilet paper. The four organizers enlisted classmates and family members to help on the day of the carnival. According to Godwin, “We raised $1,000 to support scholarships for Gateway. We hope that the carnival becomes an annual event!”


Carnival goers try their luck at toilet-seat corn hole.


Upping the ante at Rose Manor
The third group – Adam Luther, Shana Byrd, and Terry Breedlove – wanted to help the residents of Rose Manor, a facility in Durham offering short-term rehabilitative services and long-term care to its patients and residents. After completing a clinical experience at Rose Manor over the summer, the students recognized that there were few program options tailored to the male residents. “We created a list of potential activities and then surveyed the men in the facility to see which one had the most interest. A regular poker game was the clear winner,” said Luther. The students organized a biweekly poker game on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, providing the cards and snacks. Some residents needed a little more help to participate, so they were given partners or allowed to simply watch the game. According to Byrd, “It was fun to see the camaraderie increase each time the group met.” One participant’s daughter was so impressed with the game’s success that she agreed to coordinate it after the students’ involvement ended.

“The thread that connected these different service learning projects was the students’ ability to directly benefit the agencies and their clients in tangible and long-lasting ways. As the students developed new skills themselves, they were also able to do great things in the larger community that Durham Tech serves,” concluded Marcus.