ECU occupational therapy provides screenings, activities for children

Students and faculty in the East Carolina University College of Allied Health Sciences’ Department of Occupational Therapy provided free screenings, educational games and activities to children on Sept. 18 during the Fun Fair for All at Boyd Lee Park in Greenville.

ECU occupational therapy students worked with kids during a variety of fun activities during the Sept. 18 Fun Fair for All at Boyd Lee Park in Greenville. (Contributed photos)

The occupational therapy department partnered with Kinetic Pediatric Therapy, a Greenville-based company that offers a variety of family-focused therapies. Students from Pitt Community College’s occupational therapy assistant program joined the other sponsors in offering occupational therapy, speech and physical therapy screenings as well as games and activities geared toward kids of all ability levels.

“Service is the core of who we are as occupational therapists,” said Dr. Denise Donica, associate professor and chair of ECU’s occupational therapy department. “Here at ECU, we try to offer opportunities where our students not only get to see this in action but get to be a part of it. Events like these further the mission of ECU, CAHS and the Department of Occupational Therapy.”

Children laughed and balloons bobbed under tents as the sun burned off the morning fog and young participants gathered at each activity station. Some used hula hoops during obstacle courses while others tried to outlast their opponents during races.

Caroline Andrews of Greenville brought her three children to the fair to enjoy a morning out with an educational theme.

“I brought them to get a little education for them and see about some of the resources in the community,” she said as her kids learned about proper backpack wear and participated in a backpack relay race.

The event gave occupational therapy students a chance to interact with the community outside the classroom.

“We spend a lot of time in the classroom, and doing something like this gives us a chance to work with people,” said second-year ECU occupational therapy student Leah Whitehurst.

ECU’s Department of Occupational Therapy offers a master’s degree; curriculum follows guidelines established by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). The curriculum is designed to provide students the opportunity to integrate classroom learning with clinical experience.

“Occupational therapists work with individuals across the lifespan,” Donica said. “When these individuals are engaged, they are much more likely to attend to the information being shared and apply it to their lives. If they are engaged, they are more likely to find meaning in what is being shared. Occupational therapists always strive to engage their participants and work collaboratively with them versus just providing care or treatment.”

Children participate in an obstacle course during the Sept. 18 Fun Fair for All at Boyd Lee Park in Greenville. The course helped ECU students assess coordination and skills of children.

Dr. Lauren Turbeville, assistant professor of occupational therapy at ECU, said the event provided a true-to-life opportunity for students to interact with children — a situation that is difficult to mimic in the classroom or lab.

“It’s hard to simulate a child,” Turbeville said, “so having an event where there are actual children helps give our students some experience.”

Donica said events like the fair allowed students to navigate unpredictable experiences that can arise during client interactions.

“It also allows them to be involved in servant-leadership,” she said. “As occupational therapists, our graduates become leaders and are viewed as experts by the families whom they serve.”

Turbeville said the fair also allowed students to work with area providers and businesses to benefit the community.

“I think it’s good for our students to volunteer during non-class time,” she said. “It shows their extra dedication to learning. It benefits our students, and it benefits our community.”

Nora Digregorio is an occupational therapist with Kinetic Pediatric Therapy; she was on hand to work with children doing an assortment of activities including an obstacle course and relay races. Each station included an opportunity to screen the participants and provide instruction and tips for better habits.

“Education is such an important component of what we do,” Digregorio said, adding that each station was specially designed to be accessible to all kids. “We worked to make stations that children of any ability level could participate in.”

Gloria Ufot, Kinetic’s marketing coordinator, said the fair gave sponsors and participants a chance to gather in an open space to showcase resources and learn about different types of screenings available for kids.

“We’re so pleased we can bring this event to them in an open environment,” she said. “It’s been really awesome.”

Second-year ECU occupational therapy student Christine Johnson said providing education to area children was about teaching them about lifelong healthy habits, but also about equipping them for a better quality of life within their reach.

“We’re doing more than helping them — we’re empowering them,” she said.