OT Practitioners and Students Find a Home with Rebuilding Together
Bringing volunteers and communities together to improve the homes and lives of homeowners in need- that simple mission statement says a lot about the non-profit home repair organization Rebuilding Together. It also resonates with OT practitioners and students who see a clear role for our profession in helping them achieve this goal.
AOTA and Rebuilding Together (RT) have been encouraging our members and local organizations to collaborate on home modification projects for more than a decade. In fact according to Greg Secord, "One of my goals as Director of the Safe at Home program at Rebuilding Together is to have an OT on the Board of Directors of every affiliate in the Rebuilding Together network (over 200). In my opinion, the sharing of time and talent by OTs is key to delivery of appropriate, quality service to the low-income homeowners we serve."
The simplest way to get involved is to become a project volunteer. National Rebuilding Day is the last Saturday of April, which coincides with OT Month. This can be an opportunity for a group of practitioners, a class of students, or even a state association district to partner with RT to serve the community and promote awareness of both Rebuilding Together and occupational therapy.
OT practitioners can volunteer to be part of the project screening/selection process. Some OT practitioners participate as previewers, reviewing all of the needed repairs on a home and helping to select Rebuilding Day projects. But most OT practitioners focus on home safety and accessibility assessments. OT practitioners recognize the impact of the physical environment on performance, especially for individuals who experience disability or age-related changes. With an understanding of human development and health conditions, OT practitioners can analyze the current interaction between person and environment and predict how the person-environment interaction may change over time. Having this expertise available ensures that the repairs and modifications fit occupants' current and future needs.
Another way for OT practitioners to get involved is in affiliate leadership, such as chairing a committee or serving on an affiliate board of directors. Committees may include project selection, fundraising, volunteer recruitment or coordination, and others. These roles involve greater responsibility and greater time commitment, but they also mean a greater impact on the organization and a greater sphere of influence. Serving on a board is the highest level of responsibility and commitment. This is an opportunity to impact the future of the RT affiliate and to influence the awareness and understanding of occupational therapy among community leaders.
Here is a sampling of how OT practitioners and students have forged relationships with RT in their local communities, and in the process given back to their communities, promoted the value of occupational therapy, and enhanced their own professional development. We hope it inspires you to connect with your local RT affiliates and share your valuable expertise in home modifications and aging in place.
California OT practitioners and students have had a decade-long relationship with Rebuilding Together in various Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) state chapters. In 2008 OTAC formalized their relationship with RT by naming RT their 1st Annual OTAC Conference-Sponsored Organization.
Sarah Eggen-Thornhill was one of the early OTs to establish a great working relationship with their local RT affiliate. More than 10 years ago she connected with RT San Francisco and recruited OT volunteers to provide home assessments and written recommendations addressing safety and accessibility.
DeeDee Clark has been involved with RT Peninsula for 3 years and acts as a liaison between the local OTs and RT. This year they tried something new: DeeDee participated in several homeowner orientations and talked to them about the OT's role in providing home safety and accessibility assessments. The homeowners decided whether to request an OT home assessment; if they did, the OT also faxed a copy of the report to the RT office. The demand has grown from 3 OT assessments the first year to 11 this past year. DeeDee has also worked with San Jose State University to include students.
After a costly bathroom modification mishap, Orange County, California's RT Executive Director Steve Carpenter sought expert advice in home modifications. He was aware the national relationship of OTs and RT affiliates and contacted OTAC. He was connected with Diane Mayfield who at the time was the Academic Fieldwork Coordinator for the Santa Ana College OTA Program. Diane recognized that the relationship with RT could provide excellent Fieldwork Level I opportunities and set up a partnership/FWI site with RT. Each initial home assessment included Diane and a student, with Diane demonstrating an interview, home assessment, and written summary. Students gradually assumed more responsibility. Diane also recommended that RT hire a part-time OT to help her with the FWI students, which led to Jane McCabe being hired by RT.
Jane's position began primarily as a preceptor for the OTA students. Later she performed other paid services directly for RT. In 2007-2008 Jane was one of the OTs participating in InSTEP, a multi-disciplinary pilot program for falls prevention. The OTs provided client/home assessments and recommendations for safety modifications, equipment, and behavioral changes. The home modifications for that program were provided through the Orange County RT office.
Gracie Bitgood is the founder and Executive Director of Rebuilding Together Chesapeake. As a post-professional OTD student at Virginia Commonwealth University, Gracie developed this new RT affiliate as her Capstone Leadership Project for the OTD program. In 2008 their project recipient was a young woman with cerebral palsy who lives with her parents. She had never been in her bathroom independently because her wheelchair could not fit through the narrow doorway. Her petite mother lifted her into the bathroom whenever necessary. RT remodeled the bathroom, widening the doorway, relocated the sink and toilet, installed a wheelchair accessible sink, and a barrier free shower. As a surprise, they gave her a much needed bedroom makeover including access to her closet.
Their 2009 project included bathroom modifications for a man with spina bifida who lives in a separate apartment in his parents' back yard. They widened the bathroom, relocated the sink to allow for access to the toilet and shower, and installed accessible light switches and outlets. Gracie's team also installed a 120' paver pathway to allow for increased wheelchair access to his apartment.
RT Greater Augusta
Charlie Downs, ADA Coordinator for the city of Waynesboro, knew that a special project that Rebuilding Together of Greater Augusta, VA, had undertaken could use OT expertise. He contacted Paige Moore, OT Director at Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, Virginia, where he previously worked, and asked her to consult on RT's Safe Haven Project, is an ambitious home addition for a family whose 12-year-old son, Joseph, is a wheelchair user. The architect had already drafted well thought out plans for the addition, but Paige was able to review the plans with the architect and the family and make suggestions to make the home more accessible to each of their needs. As an OT, she tried to ensure that Joseph's functional abilities matched the proposed environmental changes both now and for the future.
Sharon Glover is the OT liaison with RT Pittsburgh and has been a member of the RT board since 1999. She, along with other OTs like Pam Toto, have made it a point to educate the RT board about OT and what we have to offer. Sharon also provides training and support to the local OTs on home modifications, the home assessment form that they use, and working as a team. Local OT schools are also involved in various ways.
RT is considered a standing committee at the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association (POTA) district level so members hear about what is happening and upcoming with OT and RT. The training has been offered as a workshop sponsored by the POTA district with continuing education credit.
Involvement from the OT community in Pittsburgh is tremendous. Approximately 18 OTs volunteer each year. Sharon devotes a lot of time to recruiting OT volunteers and making sure they have positive experiences. She has set up the OT involvement to be flexible so that someone can volunteer 2 hours for one home assessment, do multiple assessments, and/or go to the homes on the Rebuilding Days.
As part of the planning for Rebuilding Day projects, Sharon assigns an OT to each of the nearly 30 homes that RT does each year. Later she assigns student groups to as many homes as possible. OTs have until the end of March to complete the home assessment with their house captain. Many of the OTs also go to the house on the actual Rebuilding day. Sharon's many hours of planning help to ensure that the OT volunteers have a positive experience so that they will continue to come back year after year.
RT Long Island
Stephanie Dapice Wong teaches at Touro College and volunteers with Rebuilding Together-Long Island (RT-LI). The relationship with RT-LI was developed by Alex Lopez from Stony Brook University and handed down to Stephanie in 2008. When the affiliate has a homeowner or family member who has a disability affecting their function, they contact Stephanie for an OT evaluation. She evaluates 12-20 clients in their home, sends a report to RT-LI, and follows up with other services and education or referrals when needed.
RT-LI receives grant funding that allows them to do large home modification projects including bathroom remodeling, ceiling lifts, etc., so builders are generally involved in projects. Recommended home modifications from the OT evaluation are shared with the builders who add their expertise and perspective. The collaboration results in beautiful and functional outcomes.
Stephanie believes that OT educators are a good fit for the OT-RT partnership. Touro College has a community service requirement of students. The relationship with RT provides opportunities for OT service several times a year, grant funding potential, evaluation of the outcomes for research, and involvement of students in service-learning.
RT Dutchess County
Donna Frazier, Director of Rehabilitation for Elant at Fishkill is on the board of RT Dutchess County in NY. Each year her employer co-sponsors a local home and therapy staff and fieldwork students volunteer for the day. Throughout the year OT staff also volunteers for Heroes at Home, RT's home modification and repair program for veterans funded by Sears. Even the resident council at their SNF/subacute facility donated $500 from their fundraising efforts to RT.
Donna recalls that more than 8 years ago an OT from her NYSOTA district was invited to be on the local RT Board. A team of OTs, including Donna, volunteered to help on a single project the first year and each year they did more. OTs do assessments and make recommendations prior to the actual Rebuilding Day and act as general volunteers on actual Rebuilding Day.
Donna was so impressed with the RT mission that she became a house co-captain for 2 years and was then asked to be on the RT Board. Her RT affiliate values having an OT on the Board and looks to them as the expert on home assessments equipment selection. Donna also previews homes with a contractor for the house selection committee and assess homes throughout the year for the affiliate's Safe at Home program.
In 2007 she was part of an ambassador program of OTs traveling to India and was asked to give a presentation on occupational therapy and Rebuilding Together. She also teaches at a local college and involves students in RT as well. Donna hopes that getting students involved will spark an interest in home assessments, add to their learning, and instill in them the value of sharing OT expertise with organizations with missions like RT.
Rebuilding Together Oklahoma City's Executive Director, Valerie Aubert, feels that "OTs have had a tremendous impact on our ability to serve our clients. They have not only provided evaluations, but they have also taught us what to look for and what questions to ask. By preventing accidents and suggesting changes that will make it easier for homeowners to take care of themselves, they are making it possible for seniors in our community to stay safely in their homes with grace and dignity."
Marlene Snow's involvement with Rebuilding Together Oklahoma City came when Program Director Tim Reardon contacted her about a difficult situation in which an elderly woman was essentially a prisoner in her own home, dependent on a wheelchair in a home with no ramp. Tim and Marlene went to the home and Marlene made recommendations based on the needs of the client. Even small recommendations like moving a lamp or changing the swing of a refrigerator door made a big impact. Tim became hooked on OT. Marlene continues to provide home safety assessments and also serves on their program committee. OT involvement has been instrumental in developing an outcomes measurement tool for the organization.
The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center has involved students in performing detailed home modification assessments for the Oklahoma City and Tulsa RT affiliates. RT Oklahoma City's Tim Reardon says the assessments provide a great training tool for staff and will be used for some major projects this fall.
In 2008 the Oklahoma Occupational Therapy Association's community awareness project was to perform home modification/safety assessments on a number of homes. In October 2009 Marlene and Tim presented at the OOTA about the relationship between OT and RT.
RT San Antonio
Rebuilding Together's Serving Those Who Serve program provides home modifications for severely injured veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. AOTA contacted Professors Kimatha Grice and Kimberly Vogel in the Department of Occupational Therapy of University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio to provide in depth home assessments for this program and they eagerly accepted. They contacted the program director of Serving Those Who Serve and through telephone, e-mail, and fax communication received information about the veteran and agreed on reasonable payment for their services. They then contacted the veteran or spouse by phone and set up an appointment the assessment.
Between November 2006 and July 2007, they evaluated and made recommendations for five veterans, which included listening to the concerns of the veteran, walking around the house, measuring, and taking digital photographs. They then provided a 2-3 page report describing the functional level of the individual, his or her prioritized concerns, and their findings, recommendations, summary, and attached photographs.
Kimatha and Kimberly were touched by the appreciativeness of the soldiers and their spouses and believe the partnership with RT is a perfect fit for involving OTs in the current needs of society. Their students also showed great interest in the faculty's involvement because it is real life, close to home, and gives them tangible examples from which to learn.
Greater Milwaukee/Greater Dallas
Noralyn Pickens has been involved with two RT affiliates. She was on the boards of RT Greater Milwaukee while teaching at UW-Milwaukee and RT Greater Dallas while teaching at TWU.
She heard about RT though an AOTA news clip, called the local board president, and began service on the RT Greater Milwaukee board along with Linda Balfanz. Together they developed an OT team that evaluated every Rebuilding Day home.
In Milwaukee she supervised a Level I fieldwork student with RT who accompanied her on several home evaluations and to a board meeting, and a master's student who developed safety materials for homeowners. OT students, along with students from architecture and urban planning joined in the annual Rebuilding Day.
When she joined the RT Greater Dallas board they did not yet have a home modifications program. Since then Noralyn has developed a team of six OTs who evaluate homes for Rebuilding Day and for year-round projects like Heroes at Home and foster family projects. She also trains their AmeriCorps members to do pre-screens for home modification evaluations and basic installations (e.g. grab bars).
At TWU she had a master's student design new accessible bathrooms from the studs up, and plan home modifications for people with cognitive and sensory deficits. Ongoing research projects include looking at the clinical utility and communication of certain assessments for use with RT and its contractors and outcomes of home modifications. Her OT students, their families and friends, have been involved in every Rebuilding Day in both Milwaukee and Dallas. Noralyn feels that these are incredible opportunities for students to learn new skills, work side-by-side with community partners, and share the experience of helping those who are disadvantaged in some way. Noralyn says she is very proud to be a part of Rebuilding Together.
Holly Hardaway and Claire Mulry, both of Independent Domain, LLC, in New Jersey, were inspired to get involved with RT after they attended a session about Rebuilding Together at the 2003 AOTA Annual Conference in DC. They met with the NJ RT affiliates that first year and arranged for teams of volunteers to work with the Camden, Middlesex, and Bergen County affiliates for OT Month 2004. In subsequent years Holly and Claire performed home safety assessments for Bergen County. In 2007 they had students from Kean University, where Claire is an adjunct professor, perform supervised home assessments.
District of Columbia
Anne Morris has had a long relationship with Rebuilding Together and is a strong advocate of OT practitioners and educators getting involved in Rebuilding Together. In 2000, she consulted for a year with RT at their National Office in DC and developed the Home Safety Assessment Checklist which has remained on their Web site since then. Through Morris Eldercare Consulting she has supervised fieldwork experiences for Level II students. As a current faculty member with Howard University, her Level I students evaluated 16 homes as their community service project with RT DC during their OT Theories and Concepts course last year.
Doris Macy was a fieldwork student of Dr. Anne Morris with Elder Care Consulting. She found that working with Rebuilding Together as part of her Level II fieldwork was a great opportunity to learn and experience first hand how OT can make such a difference in the community. She gained knowledge regarding home modifications and increasing accessibility and safety to improve the quality of life of the occupants of the home. Doris spent one day a week with the Northern Virginia RT affiliate including previewing the homes and making recommendations. During the home preview, she took pictures, interviewed the family and assessed their needs, and made recommendations with their input. She followed up with written reports of the recommendations. She also got the opportunity to work with a few Howard University students as Dr. Morris is a faculty member there.