JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A group of Arkansas State University students is taking their skills off the university's campus and into the community.
Director of the Occupational Therapy Assistant Program at ASU, Professor Jessie Bricker, said they have a program in place where students can gain experience while giving back.
"This program hasn't been here very long," Bricker said. "We've been here since 2015. And when we came into the community we recognized that there are not very many occupational therapists here. And the occupational therapists that are here have very traditional roles in terms of being part of that more medical model. One of things we're trying to do is expand the role and scope of occupational therapy. Just the community's understanding of what an OT is able to do by working with various populations in the community. So, this is a concept called service learning. And students have the opportunity to go and find out about a population of people they're interested in working with and also be giving back to the community. And that's helping to educate the community and change the culture about understanding the civility. Not just physical disability, but cognitive disabilities and maybe some social and emotional differences as well."
Bricker said there are several students participating in the program and volunteering at the HUB in Jonesboro.
"The students I work with over at the HUB," Bricker said. "They are actually doctorate students. So, they are in their second year in their doctoral program for occupational therapy. They are with me over at the HUB because they are learning about psychosocial practice. And in occupational therapy, traditional role might be to help someone adapt to a physical change. For example, if they've had knee surgery or knee replacement, hip replacement or a spinal cord injury, we would help them adapt to those changes."
Bricker said they hope to help.
"We also think about people who are adapting to other changes in life," Bricker said. "If they've had a traumatizing event. Maybe they have an unstable living situation. Maybe they've suffered loss or they're trying to overcome substance abuse or addiction issues. Those are equally as important to consider when you're thinking about helping people to adapt to life changes."
Bricker said she hoped students took away the concept of social justice.
"When we talk about social justice," Bricker said. "It could be on a national scale or even a local community-wide scale. It's closely tied to the understanding that social justice is part of occupational justice. And we talk about equality or giving people opportunities. Humans are doers. They are by their very nature they are engaged in doing something. And people have a better quality of life and experience more well-being in their life when they're engaged in purposeful and meaningful roles, activities, responsibilities. Things that matter to them. And we have marginalized populations, like people who are suffering from periods of homelessness. What we're really trying to help the students understand is taking a look at that person's day in terms of their ability to engage in those meaningful occupations. And how those support things like mental health and feeling that they are adequate in their roles. Maybe as a mother or a sister or a friend. And just getting back to those things that all humans value."
Student Rachael Rodery is participating in the service-learning program.
"I want to work in the foster care system," Rodery said. "A lot of them emancipate at 18 and the statistics show that a lot of them end up homeless. So, this population kind of correlates with that. So, I'm hoping to get the knowledge and understand the resources that they have out there available to them."
Rodery said she's learned a lot in a short amount of time.
"I've learned so much just in the first few minutes of being there," Rodery said. "All about the different resources that they have to offer and all the different ways they assist people in the needs they have. From calling to finding apartments, finding jobs. Whatever it is they have so many ways to reach out and resource people. It's pretty interesting."
Rodery said anyone can make a big difference by getting involved.
"I definitely think the community needs to get involved," Rodery said. "Even if it's not the HUB, there are so many different things out there and ways to help. For instance, the Jonesboro Human Development Center. There are a number of resources they need like coloring pencils and things like that the community could get involved in. You could donate or drive for them and it would be very beneficial to all the sites, including the HUB."
There are six students participating in the program right now.
Bricker said there were many students who expressed an interest in participating.
They hope to expand in the future.
For more information about the Occupational Therapy Program at ASU, click here.