COPE Program Offers No-Cost Occupational Therapy and Counseling Services in High-Need and High-Demand Areas

The Walsh University Master of Occupational Therapy and Master of Counseling and Human Development programs collaborated to establish the Walsh University Counselors and Occupational Therapists Professionally Engaged (COPE) in the Community program that launched in 2021. This program is enhancing the community’s capacity to provide high quality experiential training of students in innovative care settings serving high-need populations in high-demand areas.

The COPE program, sponsored through grant funding from the Department of Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Behavioral Health Workforce Education Training (BHWET) Program for Professionals, pairs Walsh students with community agencies and individuals in need of these services. COPE students must complete additional interprofessional training to increase cultural competence and humility beyond the standard degree requirements of their respective programs. This training includes interprofessional topics related to partner violence, human trafficking, substance abuse, gun violence, refugee, homeless, LGBTQ+, low educational level, poor health literacy, poverty, rural community and trauma history. Students who complete their clinical rotation in an underserved or high-needs area may be eligible for a $10,000 stipend to relieve the financial burden of additional training.

As a result of the Walsh University COPE program, students have been able to provide six months of free mental health and occupational services to three different community-based centers: RAHAB Ministries, Canton; Humility of Mary Housing, Cleveland; and AVO Rehab, Canton.

RAHAB Ministries serves women and teens who have been victims of human trafficking.  There, Jessica Baylor ’22, provided free occupational therapy services providing individual intervention session as well as group sessions, targeting life skills, coping mechanisms, distress tolerance, money management, self-care and relaxation techniques.  She also provided services in RAHAB’s drop-in center and safe house.  

“These women have been through tough situations but demonstrate amazing resiliency and resourcefulness,” said Jessica Baylor.  “Some of the women struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction and trauma. One way that I feel like I made a difference was helping them develop a safety plan to cope with anxiety in public places. Then, we actually went shopping together and celebrated the success of that outing. The happiness I saw that day will always stick with me.”

Sara Horning ’22, worked at Humility of Mary Housing this past summer, where she helped individuals experiencing mental health difficulties and homelessness gain confidence through leisure and life skills. 

“Walsh provided me with the tools I needed to work in a nontraditional OT setting,” said Sara Horning.  “From my class experience to other fieldwork sites, I was prepared to serve the clients and provide them with one-on-one and group services.”

Claire Killian ’22, who also worked at Humility of Mary Housing, hopes to eventually open a private practice specializing in transitioning individuals out of homelessness by bettering their mental health and life skills.  She worked with young men this summer who had been incarcerated and also those who had aged out of the foster care system.  She also traveled to senior locations to provide in-home services for geriatric patients who could not afford long-term care.  Throughout all of her experiences, she gained a deeper appreciation for the collaboration between occupational therapy and counseling in caring for clients.

“In mental health, it is extremely important for counseling and OT to work in partnership,” she said.  “Sometimes the social workers at my site knew information about a client that helped me format my treatments, and sometimes I was able to assist them.  I believe working together, we can cover more gaps in client care.”

During her time in the COPE program, she developed an entire occupational therapy program across three different permanent supporting housing shelters. Her work did not go unnoticed.  Humility of Mary created a position for her, and upon graduation she will become their first-ever employed occupational therapist.  She will be charged with creating occupation-based programming for two shelters in Akron serving mothers and children who have experienced homelessness.

AVO Rehab, another partnering agency, founded by Walsh Alumnus Ashley Collins ’10, ‘16, partnered a Walsh Occupational Therapy student with a Counseling and Human Development student, which not only meets one of the objectives of the grant – it improves the quality of life for individuals by increasing their personal skills and wellness.

For more information on these programs, click here.