A School News Network feature: GRCC OTA students learn and the community benefits through new partnerships

GRCC students  serving meals at Matthew’s House.

Sydney Murphy encouraged people at Matthew’s House Ministry to stand up and complete exercises that help the lymphatic system eliminate toxins.

Following Murphy’s directions, several people who had come to the northwest Grand Rapids non-profit for a free meal and session led by students in Grand Rapids Community College’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program rose from their seats, rubbed and tapped their own neck, chest, hips, the backs of their knees, and wiggled their arms and trunks.

“You could be tired, nauseous, have migraines, stiff joints,” Murphy explained. “This is a technique to wake up your lymphatic system by tapping on the main lymph nodes in your body.  This can overall keep your whole body clear of toxins that make you feel sick or foggy.”

Since September, as part of fieldwork to become occupational therapy assistants, GRCC students have connected with people who are experiencing homelessness and who utilize programs and services at Matthew’s House. The students serve meals – a recent Tuesday’s menu including chicken, ham, mashed potatoes and all the fixings – before beginning lessons attendees might find of value.

Murphy and fellow GRCC students Tanya Dyer, Taylor Barr and Rachel Hill led “Self-care Bingo,” with spaces on the card stating healthy-living practices like “stretch,” “give a compliment” and “exercise.”

They also practiced mindfulness through breathing techniques and got to know one another by sharing fun, personal facts: “Strawberry Fields by The Beatles” answered one man about his favorite song. “I’m a mechanic,” another man shared. “I work at the VanAndel Arena,” shared another. “I love walking because I can’t drive a car without crashing,” said Mike Baxter, with a chuckle.

After finishing his meal, Baxter said he enjoys participating in sessions with students while having a free dinner. They’ve focused on nutrition, computer and employment skills and where to find resources. Baxter contributed to a resource guide they created.

“They talk about personal health, where to shop, how to save money on your shopping. They do price comparisons and everything…. They seem to get more detailed every week,” he said.

Murphy sees the value of working with the group as part of her training.

“You meet a lot of different people from a lot of different areas of life, and that broadens your horizons,” she said.

“It’s a lot of getting to know people and what walk of life they come from. Everyone’s different and needs different things so it’s about really getting to know them on a personal level.”

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