‘Fantastic Partnership’ helps Cayuga OTA students, Oswego YMCA Respite Program

OSWEGO — Students in Cayuga Community College’s Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) Program this semester are finding creative ways to complete their fieldwork and make a difference in the Oswego community.

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing delays in students’ fieldwork from the spring of 2020, some Cayuga OTA students have spent the Fall 2020 semester working with the Oswego YMCA Friends for Life Respite Program. The program provides recreational opportunities for Oswego County residents with developmental disabilities who reside at home with their families.

The OTA students’ work with the program has been invaluable, said Respite Program Director Darci Michalski.

“OTA students have such a different approach. Our program encourages participants to work on new routines for home, activities and daily living to build independence. That’s what OTA does for people. It teaches them to be independent, and helps them build those skills,” she said. “If I’m trying to have participants live their lives to the fullest, the OTA students are the ones who can help them put those skills in place.”

Working with the Respite Program has provided OTA students with on-the-job experience, whether it was conducting activities, creating new methods to help participants or building their communication skills. While the students’ work is designed to build physical ability and independence, it also incorporates participants’ interests to ensure the activities are enjoyable.

Cayuga students Hailey Giocondo and Morgan Iauco were scheduled to complete their fieldwork in the spring of 2020, until the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled their placements. Instead they spent the first part of the fall 2020 semester conducting fieldwork at the Respite Program, saying the experience was eye-opening in the lessons they learned, the relationships they built with participants and the challenges they overcame.

“Most of the programs were small group services, which was a lot of fun to be involved in. Trying to meet each individual’s needs within a group session, especially if each individual’s needs and goals are different, can be a real challenge,” said Giocondo. “We got the hang of it pretty quickly as we got to know each individual within the Respite Program.”

With the Respite Program this fall, Giocondo and Iauco guided participants through a series of events and activities, including the New York State Occupational Therapy Association’s Walk, Run, Roll Virtual 5K for Occupational Therapy. As part of the 5K, Giocondo and Iauco led program participants on walks in the YMCA gym and outside as a way to build awareness of occupational therapy.

Iauco said the Respite Program, which helps youths and adults, was a great opportunity to enhance her communication skills, something that will be invaluable as she moves forward in a career in occupational therapy. It also gave her a chance to incorporate each participant’s goals into the activity.

“It’s just a matter of how you phrase words and use non-verbal communication to help participants better understand. It’s also really important to acknowledge the participant’s interests and what they want to do during the program,” said Iauco. “I’m so happy I had the opportunity to work with the adults and better learn how to provide therapy and include their meaningful occupations into the program.”

The OTA students’ work is integral to the Respite Program, said Michalski, who is eager for future Cayuga students to continue working with the program.

“I’m so impressed with the students, the professors and the program. Any support I needed, they’ve been helpful,” said Michalski. “I love the fresh look they’ve given the program, and appreciate the way they look at things. It’s a fantastic partnership.”

For more information about Cayuga’s OTA program, visit www.cayuga-cc.edu/academics/schools/health-sciences/occupational-therapy-assistant/. For information about the Respite Program, visit https://oswegoymca.org/index.cfm/programs-events/respite1/.

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