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Running OT Programming at a Family Shelter

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

From February to April, I had the privilege of running programming at the Family House Toledo, a project several years in the making. The Family House was awarded a grant, and they invited me to get the ball rolling for OT programming.

The shelter leadership had asked me to run a parenting class. I started with handouts and a whiteboard. I received many earnest nods, and the kids ran around screaming 95% of the time. I went home shellshocked after the first class. Then I put my OT hat back on. How could I create a space where families could learn skills that would help them be more successful while doing something meaningful? Then one of my students found a fabulous article while we were preparing our research project. The authors created a craft group where families could build executive functioning skills, have access to social and leisure occupations, and the kids would have fun too (and not be screaming as much) (Schultz-Krohn, Winter, Mena et al., 2021). Participants found the group meaningful, restorative, and fun.

As soon as I found the article I started looking up crafts that would work for the group I ran. Ages ran from four to 69, so the crafts needed to be accessible but meaningful for different ages. After the first group, families gave me amazing ideas for future craft sessions. The shelter staff had a treasure trove of craft supplies we were able to tap into. One of my favorite sessions was found object canvases. Below is one young kiddos rendition of a cat and a monster. It's freaking awesome. His mother created the piece with the feathers and buttons.

Eventually we had anywhere from two to four families coming to craft groups. With enough kids around, sometimes they would start to go after each other, and with parental permission, I would demonstrate positive parenting techniques and communication strategies. For example, one of the kiddos would start to hit and push when he did not want to share glue or scissors. So I asked him, "Do you need space?" He would nod, and I would ask him how he could tell us that. Shortly after, he started saying "I need space," and this would buy us at least five seconds to intervene before he started hitting anybody. I would call that a win!

While making crafts, the caregivers started to share information, such as school enrollment deadlines, food resources, and parenting strategies. While I might take a moment to chase the kids or help them with a craft, this gave the caregivers a chance to talk. And not chase kids.

One of the highlights of the session would be doing heavy work to "Let it Go" from Frozen at the very end. "Heavy work" involves big movements that give good proprioceptive input to the joints, such as stomping or jumping. Let me tell you, "Let it Go" is a real headbanger with the right crowd. With this input, some of the kiddos who were bouncing off the walls would bounce a little slower, and seem to feel better.

So, in the span of an hour and a half, caregivers got to talk shop, we all swapped strategies to make parenting just a little easier, and the kids got to learn skills that would make things just a little bit better. Finding the right activity and setup went a long way!

Sadly, the grant ended and I have since moved. The time that I had at Family House was precious and has steered me further into occupational justice and community OT. I look forward to my next community-based project and will always value my time with these amazing families.

I want to thank Dr. Tonia Pace Executive Director of the Family House, an amazing mentor who moves mountains for the families and staff to make the impossible possible; Donna Jordan, who watched out for me during my capstone and encouraged me during my time working at Family House; Mandy Phillips, who got my creative juices flowing and whose generosity made groups even more fun for everyone with cool supplies and materials; I also want to thank DeShanna, Gwen, and DeNita for their support and encouragement. Last but not least, I want to thank each family that came to group. You were amazing partners in occupation and showed me that life can be hard AND good with the right people around you.

Schultz-Krohn, Winifred & Winter, Emily & Mena, Carina & Roozeboom, Alison & Vu, Lisa. (2021). The Lived Experience of Mothers Who Are Homeless and Participated in an Occupational Therapy Leisure Craft Group. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health. 37. 1-23. 10.1080/0164212X.2021.1881022.

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