By: Domenic F. Fraboni
“Transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience.” This is the American Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) vision statement for the physical therapy profession. This amazing organization hopes that all practicing and student physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapy assistants (PTAs) will go out into the world as thoughtful and informed individuals ready to transform society through their profession. The great thing about the APTA is they even have an entire strategic plan on how we aim to accomplish this vision. Rather than try and tackle the entire strategic plan on my own, I decided to approach the mission in my own little way: service work.
Last year, in my first year at the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences (shout out to the recent name change), I applied for and was selected to be a member on the Student Leadership Project Committee for Community Service. This committee’s mission is to help foster student opportunities in community service, public health awareness, and engagement with minority and underserved populations by promoting the APTA’s consumer-centricity and developing cultural competency within the APTA Student Assembly (our national student organization). One of our other duties for the year was to help plan the service projects that would run in conjunction with the National Student Conclave (NSC) in Miami, Florida just last month. This was just too perfect of an opportunity to use some Special Olympics connections to plan an event that would leave a lasting impression on the students that participated. To make a long story short, after multiple conference calls, pages on pages of emails, and a little
(actually a lot of) assistance from my good friend from Special Olympics Washington D.C., Haylie Bernacki, we got an event planned at the Sunrise Community in Southwest Miami on October 27th, which just so happened to be my birthday.
The Sunrise Community is a pleasant looking, villa-style commune that is home to over 120 residents with varying physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities. The residents live at Sunrise full-time and are assisted in living life to the fullest by the 250 staff members that comprise the working force of the community. Our task was to work with the residents at the Sunrise Community at a Culminating Event for their Motor Activity Training Program (just one of the many programs available for the residents). Going into the evening, in all honesty, I had very little idea what this event would look like. Yes, I had received an email with a list of activities that would be running, but in all my experiences with Special Olympics organizations, I had never participated in an event like this. So there we were, about 30 volunteers strong, heading into the unknown and unsure exactly what our role was going to be during this shindig.
Upon arriving, we quickly learned that we had just joined a party! There were roughly 45 residents that had turned out for the culminating event. There was a dance floor complete with a stage and DJ booth. Stations were set up for the residents to participate in activities such as basketball, volleyball, bowling, and soccer, among others. This is when we got to work. It was like clockwork. Student physical therapist and student physical therapy assistants broke into action. We began encouraging and helping residents make their way around to the activities (basketball and volleyball seemed to be the favorites). It didn’t take long before I realized there was a dunk tank toward hiding around back, and, yes, I absolutely got in it. Of course the evening couldn’t have ended without an award ceremony in which the athletes received ribbons honoring them for their relentless effort and dedication to activity and ability. After all that went into this amazing day, it would have been a shame if we didn’t round out the festivities with one last dance party, so we did.
That right there is the story about how I found out it is indeed always brighter at Sunrise. I couldn’t have imagined a more successful event and couldn’t have asked to see bigger smiles on the faces of the students riding back to downtown Miami on the bus with me. We really had done it. In this one event, we helped to transform this small society at the Sunrise Community just a little bit through movement. Even more successful than the event was the fact that numbers of students came to me throughout the rest of NSC and said this event was their favorite event at the conclave. Others even told me they hope to get involved, or further their involvement, with Special Olympic chapters in their own area. That made it worth it. I don’t know if I could think of a better way for student PTs and PTAs to utilize their professional skills and knowledge through service than with organizations like the Sunrise Community and Special Olympics. We will be great at what we do in our profession, and we will go out and change lives through optimal movement.
Acknowledgements: Haylie Bernacki (Special Olympics, Washington D.C.), Mark Thompson (Special Olympics Miami-Dade County), Lisa McLaughlin (Executive Director of APTA Student Assembly), the members on the Student Leadership Project Committees for Community Service and NSC Planning, all of the amazing student PTs and PTAs that volunteered at the event, and the residents and staff at the Sunrise Community. This is the list of groups and individuals which without this event would not have happened or have been as incredible an experience as is was.
Author Bio: Domenic Fraboni is a current DPT student at Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences. He greatly enjoys travel anywhere nationally and internationally. A hope of his is to work internationally for a while upon graduation to help deepen his understanding of global medicine and practice.