Occupational Therapy Students Work With Unhoused Population

Through Project HOME, students learn real-world skills while helping those in need.

Teaching skills on physical health and wellness, stress management, relapse prevention and more, Jefferson MS and doctorate of occupational therapy (OT) students work with the unhoused population at Project HOME sites.

“We’re intentional in striving to address healthcare disparities by providing services in the community to people impacted the most by the social determinants of health,” says Dr. Tina DeAngelis, director of the doctorate of occupational therapy program. “Spending time at these sites exposes our students to people from all walks of life, informing their OT practice ‘toolkit’ into one that aims to decrease stigma. The experience also allows them to see the health disparities that exist in our communities.”

As part of the curriculum, level one and two students take a hands-on approach with residents individually and in group settings, Dr. DeAngelis says. They work with participants to identify employment opportunities; discuss topics like anger management, the impact of loneliness and medication management; and offer do-it-yourself workshops on how to take better care of themselves. For example, students have taught participants how to create lip balms, lotions and foot balms for those who have spent a lot of time outdoors without the proper gear.

OT faculty members Drs. Tina DeAngelis and Rebecca Sinko (l-r) established the Project HOME programming. (Photos by ©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services)

“Working with these individuals and getting to know them first-hand showed how perfectly our profession aligns with their needs and how we can maximize their independence,” says student Nicolette Macri, who worked at Project HOME’s St. Columba location with other Jefferson students.

Macri’s classmate Claire Tarzia led residents in an activity called “Clean Care Is Cozy.” Participants selected a piece of fabric and fashioned a pillow from it. The activity encouraged residents to create a visual representation of their healthy habits and routines to keep their space clean and to serve as a reminder to incorporate them into their self-care and home management.

“My time at St. Columba was inspiring and informative,” Tarzia says. “It was a real-world, immersive experience that I will cherish. It has opened my eyes to the importance of OT services for unhoused individuals to support them in their journey to regain independence and transition to independent living.”

We’re intentional in striving to address healthcare disparities by providing services in the community to people impacted the most by the social determinants of health.
–Dr. Tina DeAngelis

The programming at Project HOME established by Dr. DeAngelis and Dr. Rebecca Sinko, assistant professor of OT, facilitates mutual learning from multiple approaches.

“Not only do our OT students work with participants on a variety of life skills, but Project HOME residents and staff provide invaluable education to our students about working in the community,” says Dr. Sinko, noting learning occurs among students as well.

Level one and two fieldwork students work in small groups or pairs at various sites within Project HOME, engaging in peer learning with each other, she says. Plus, as part of the OTD Capstone in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, third-year students can mentor second-year fieldwork students in practice skills, such as evaluation, intervention planning and documentation.

Occupational therapy students and faculty who were part of project home
Project HOME participants include OT faculty members Drs. Rebecca Sinko and Tina DeAngelis (back row, l-r) and students Maddie Humphries, Nicolette Macri, Claire Tarzia and Alia Boynton (front row, l-r).

The Project HOME partnership also includes education programs at the Honickman Learning Center where Dr. Shelley Wallock, OT assistant professor, and Dr. Sinko work with their K-8 after-school program. OT graduate assistants run groups for school-aged children focused on social-emotional learning and non-traditional literacy (for example, emotional literacy, cultural literacy, media literacy and pediatric health literacy).

Dominique Mims, assistant manager at Project HOME’s St. Columba location, appreciates all the work students have done for their residents. “The most impactful activities are their group meetings and workshops,” she says. “The guys always say how much they enjoy the sessions because they can express themselves in the form of art and conversation.”

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Health, Life at Jefferson