- Campus Life
Regardless of the weather this month, there was plenty of "Sunshine@AIC," a new community-based wellness program for the graduate students in the American International College occupational therapy program, in concert with consumers, and staff at Sunshine Village, an employment services day program for adults with developmental disabilities.
The program took place at AIC's Butova Gymnasium, Mondays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon through June 28.
Professor Allison Sullivan supervises the AIC OT student fieldwork program at Sunshine Village, based in six locations in Western Massachusetts. She had learned from student fieldwork journals that many students feel anxious when visiting these sites initially, due to the students' lack of prior experience related to adults with developmental disabilities. Sullivan was also very concerned with Sunshine Village consumers' lack of access to facilities with appropriate parameters for engaging in safe and healthy physical activity. She envisioned the "Sunshine @AIC" program as an opportunity for all stakeholders to benefit from graded preparatory, purposeful, and occupation-based activities designed by the students to increase participants' overall sense of well-being and improve their quality of life via access to this program.
"We've had amazing results," Sullivan noted. "More than 50 percent of the consumers who are involved have met a goal related to improving their health, improving their productivity, or gaining a leisure skill to improve their physical fitness, which is very high for this population. Perhaps more importantly, consumers and students develop self-esteem and confidence through their interactions with each other."
Nikesha Dave, a student in the occupational therapy program, said the program has been a great teaching tool. "This program has given me insight (into) how individuals with developmental disabilities interact in the community. This helps when we want to provide effective services for members of this particular population," she said.
At the gym and the surrounding athletic fields, occupational therapy students work with Sunshine Village consumers individually and in groups. Health and wellness interventions can be grouped into four large categories: improving self-awareness; increasing performance in leisure occupations and self-care; improving quality of life; and building healthy relationships. With the students' assistance, consumers take part in adapted activities ranging from walking, basketball, tennis, kickball, dance, hula hoop exercise, free weight exercise, parachute games, and arts and crafts.
Purposeful breaks are incorporated into the program as well to focus on aspects of hygiene and self-care, and enhance social skills during "water cooler" breaks and rest between activities. The activities serve as a springboard to enhance relationship-building, disability awareness, community integration, and self-expression for all involved.
Sullivan said experiences in Sunshine@AIC have shaped and developed students' professional selves. "Students are given a wonderful opportunity to create their own structure in this program. Fieldwork in traditional settings is so structured and [practitioners'] roles are closely governed by reimbursement, whereas this campus-based program really gives students a chance to express who they are and be creative," Sullivan said. After completing this fieldwork program, "students have an enhanced appreciation for diversity and for what occupational therapy can do in the community."
Sullivan is hopeful the effects of Sunshine @AIC will continue as students move on to develop their own careers. "Watching students become assertive, healthy occupational therapists who are ready to take on anything and are able to be creative with their clients, listen to them, and guide them through life - that's pretty awesome," she said.