University News

OTD Students Buddy Up with Aqua Buddies with Springfield's Center for Human Development

Published: October 26, 2023 | Categories: Pharmacy and Health Sciences, All News
OTD students with swimming buddies

Western New England University Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) students are making waves with local youth in the Aqua Buddies program, offered in conjunction with ALL-IN: Barrier-Free Recreation through the Center for Human Development (CHD). All-In offers a variety of year-round recreational activities in western MA and CT for adults and children with disabilities.

The Aqua Buddies program pairs OTD students with youth and young adults with disabilities ranging in age between 4 and 21 years old. The weekly aquatic therapy sessions enable student volunteers to apply classroom learning in a hands-on setting.

Aqua Buddies program student coordinator Courtney Colaccio, second-year OTD candidate, told of her success with one elementary-aged child with spinal muscular atrophy. "Due to his diagnosis, we usually have him on a floating mat during sessions. One day he asked me if he could try swimming with a noodle, and although I was nervous for the outcome, I knew it was something he was looking forward to trying. Once I took him off the mat and put the noodle under his arms, he looked at me and said, 'Oh my gosh, I love the feeling of my legs moving!' That is a moment I will never forget."

Colaccio spoke of the incredible sense of fulfillment in fostering a community of accomplishment and joy. OTD student Jordyn Robertson added, "one memorable experience is seeing the laughter from the participants and getting to build a relationship with the kids."

While the goal of the Aqua Buddies program is to increase comfort with water and focus on therapeutic play for the young participants, the program provides a learning experience for the OTD students as well. The program allows students to connect with a wider variety of populations and provides the opportunity to implement students' own therapeutic ideas during aquatic play sessions.

Jessica Levine, program manager for ALL IN: Barrier-Free Recreation, shared, "My experience with the OTD students has been nothing short of amazing. Months before the program I get really excited knowing that Aqua Buddies is coming up."

These mutual benefits of the program capture one of the most rewarding aspects of the field. As Colaccio said, "there is truly nothing better than seeing your aqua buddy move and socialize in ways they hadn't before."