Raising funds and awareness, the inaugural Bear Paw Roll & Stroll made its way around the campus of Western New England University on April 25, showcasing the Bear Paw Center, the on-campus occupational therapy program, part of WNE’s College of Pharmacy and Health Services.
Reminder Publishing photo by Bill Zito

SPRINGFIELD — The very first Bear Paw Roll & Stroll made its way around the campus of Western New England University on April 25 to raise funds for and awareness about the Bear Paw Center, the on-campus occupational therapy program, part of WNE’s College of Pharmacy and Health Services.

The center’s purpose is to provide free occupational therapy services to local community members who find themselves either uninsured or who have exhausted their allotted occupational therapy visits covered by their insurance. WNE students, faculty and staff members are also eligible to receive services without charge.

One of the nation’s first student-run occupational therapy pro bono clinics, the Bear Paw Center provides students a hands-on experience in providing occupational therapy services under the direct supervision of a licensed Occupational Therapist, preparing them for successful careers in the field class by applying their classroom knowledge and experiences to real-world settings.

Amy Burton, assistant dean of student affairs, said the center reaches people who might not otherwise be able to benefit from the services they provide.

“The students were the ones who created it, the students are the ones who run it, they do all the scheduling, they do all the services all under the supervision of a licensed practitioner,” she said.

The Bear Paw Center, which opened on the university’s campus in the fall of 2022, stands for Bringing Equity, Accessibility and Rehabilitation to People Achieving Wellness. The center expanded its services to pediatric clients last year.

Staffed by occupational therapy doctorate students, the clinic offers comprehensive evaluation, intervention, and consultation services for individuals with various medical conditions, developmental disabilities and mental health needs.

Dr. Brittany Adams, chair and program director of the department of occupational therapy, said fundraising is just a part of the student run clinic’s success and while walks are commonplace around the campus, the Roll & Stroll provided an extra layer of exclusivity for those taking part.

“A lot of our clients are not able to walk so our goal was to have an inclusive, outdoor event that would allow us to raise some funds but also involve all of our students and all of our clients.” She said.

Client services are provided on campus in the department’s labs where the occupational therapy equipment is located. At present, Adams said, there is a waitlist for both the adult and pediatric client services at the center.

“We’re constantly trying to find new ways to add more clients, “She said as two of the three-year program students are on campus, providing about 40 student providers to take part in the program.
Jovianna Bagaglio, a first year occupational therapy student, said the Bear Paw Center was a major draw for her to pursue her training and post-graduation education at WNE.

“Not many places allow you to get even first year experience with field work and we get to start right in the first semester,” she said. “By the first four weeks we were already treating clients, treating and observing, especially with some help by partnering with a year two [student] and observing how they would be treating [clients].”

Bagaglio said occupational therapy is about getting people back to doing their activities, the things that they want and need to do.

“When they come in, they will tell us what their goals are, they’ll tell us based upon their injury what they’re struggling with and we make functional interventions that will let them do that,” she said. “Instead of just activating muscles and strengthening them, we will do that but we might do it by having them lift plates onto a cabinet or maybe they really want to start painting again and we’ll make something functional so they can paint.”

Many of the center’s clients have suffered strokes, traumatic brain injuries or are recovering from surgeries or illnesses that leave them in need to regain or sharpen specific physical functions or simple everyday tasks from managing zippers to getting back behind the wheel of a car.

Bagaglio, who is from Rhode Island, said the uniqueness of the Bear Paw Center as a service as well as a teaching tool drew her to WNE as opposed to other like programs near Boston where cost is at a premium and the opportunity for direct occupational therapy experience is at a different level.

Burton, Adams and Bagaglio all said that clients, who are asked to sign an educational volunteer release form, appear pleased with the services and the program.

More information can be found at wne.edu.

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