An unusual collaboration among students from Denmark, Finland, and the United States could help adults with developmental disabilities at JESPY House incorporate more physical activity into their social and recreational lives.
The students are all at the master’s degree or doctoral level (or the equivalent) in occupational or physical therapy studies. They are participating in a project, launched with an offer from the Danish government, that encourages international collaboration on innovations for students in their fields.
The program partners with community-based agencies like the South Orange-based JESPY, the Jewish-run center for adults with learning and developmental disabilities.
To date, 27 students have been participating in a five-week workshop at Seton Hall University in South Orange focusing exclusively on JESPY.
After meeting with JESPY administrators and clients, taking a tour of the facility, and getting a feel for the agency, the students began brainstorming ideas that, if all goes well, will be implemented at JESPY beginning before they depart at the end of August.
Cathrina Thim, a student in physical therapy at Denmark’s Metropolitan University College in Copenhagen, explained the impetus for one of the concepts they have come up with, a project that would encourage physical activity and exercise.
“We looked for a project that would focus on relationships — but JESPY already has groups for solving relationship problems,” she said, as the student groups met together before a lecture at Seton Hall. “We figured out that mostly when they are together, [clients] play on the computer or sit on the couch. We thought relationships would be a chance to engage in healthy physical activity together, like going to a park, bird watching, flying kites. There’s so much to do here.”
The group included seven students from MUC, eight from Finland’s Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, 11 from Seton Hall, and one from Boston’s MGH Institute of Health Professions (affiliated with Boston University).
Hanna Skov, a lecturer at MUC who got the collaboration off the ground, described the need for innovation in occupational and physical therapy among adults with special-needs. “This course is about coping with realities of innovation so that when students finish their education, they can be part of that process or facilitate it,” she said. “It’s about how to walk into an organization, learn who to talk with and what to ask, and follow through.”
The participating students all touted the value of learning on-site at JESPY and getting feedback from its administrators. Several had to go back to the drawing board three or four times to come up with a project JESPY staff felt would be workable.
One of the projects devised by a group of the students is forming a club at Seton Hall to partner with clients at JESPY to brainstorm about activities they can then take part in together.
Another group proposed creating a more activity-friendly environment at JESPY, including the installation of hopscotch courts on the floor of the main building, the display of posters encouraging the use of stairs, and the placement of footstep decals to guide clients to an outdoor area. The plan had originally included the building of a greenhouse in which clients could grow produce and sell it at a local farmers’ market, but, it was decided, based on reactions from the JESPY administrators, that that aspect of the plan would be impractical.
During the weeks the group worked together to come up with different and better ideas to replace the greenhouse plan, said Iina Räsänen of Finland, the students “learned how to brainstorm effectively.”
Heli Kassila, also of Finland, said, “At first it was frustrating, but as we started to reflect, it created more ideas.”
Added Räsänen: “We have moved to something even better now.”
For JESPY, the entire program was a big windfall for their clients. “We’re so happy” about the students’ involvement, said Frank Bresnick, JESPY assistant director, who added that he was pleased to see “how interesting all the projects are and how different they are.”
He particularly liked the proposed JESPY-Seton Hall partnership.
One key focus of the program is to train students to recognize which projects will and which won’t work, said Skov. When developing innovations, she said, “things do not always go as you wish.”
Muriel Bowness, a nurse at JESPY who took part in the meeting held at JESPY, emphasized that success will be measured by the ideas that last. The proposed concept Thim’s group had come up with, for example, is “fantastic,” but, she added, “I can’t see how it can be sustained after they leave.”
“This is learning in real life,” said Sabrina Nielsen of Denmark. “We are going through the process and implementing it. It’s very useful.”
JESPY is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.