Last month, Davenport University students in the Occupational Therapy graduate program volunteered with the Family Promise Organization, a nonprofit that assists homeless families in the Grand Rapids area.

“Volunteering is one of the best ways to expose yourself to how other people live, which in turn broadens your worldview,” said Allison Sparks, an OT student from Bartlett, Illinois. “Through experiential learning, you learn interpersonal skills as well as gain a real appreciation for the impact you can have on someone’s day by showing compassion.”

OT studentsVolunteering is a key component in the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program at Davenport. Applicants are required to have a minimum of 40 hours of community service prior to beginning the program.

Many of the students who participated in this volunteering opportunity described it as “humbling” and “eye-opening”.

“I feel like people who aren’t directly connected to the homeless community and don’t have those experiences have stigmas,” said Jessica Nelson, an OT student from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “Being able to sit, eat and socialize with them wipes away all of the stigma that you might have had.”

The field of occupational therapy is concerned with the ability of individuals, families, and societal groups to participate in activities of daily life and engage in personally meaningful occupations. Developing empathy for a wide range of people is key for students who are preparing for a career in OT.

“This opportunity allowed our students to be on the front line of homelessness by serving and interacting with families that do not have a place to call home,” said Dr. Ashley McKnight, the Student Occupational Therapy Association faculty adviser at DU. “They provided the families with dependability and security, which is something these families are not used to. It was a therapeutic and meaningful event for everyone.”