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Occupational therapy empowers people and changes lives!


Edward Gehrig, Occupational Therapist Kelly Langdon and occupational therapy student Jasmelin Cruz pose outside the slopes.

Making the difference between ‘okay’ & ‘better’

NORTHERN NEW YORK – For someone looking to improve their mental or physical health, a helping hand or guidance to see the path ahead can be the difference between ‘okay’ and ‘better.’  That is where an occupational therapist is often the difference maker.

April is Occupational Therapy Month, a time to raise awareness about the profession and celebrate the positive impact it has on the lives of individuals.

“Occupational therapy involves hands-on work helping people improve their quality of life by engaging in activities that matter to them,” said Heather Wenzel, Associate Vice President of Operations for Citizen Advocates.  “It’s a discipline that encompasses everything we do at Citizen Advocates.  We make lives better.  We figure out what someone is excited about, or what they want to achieve in their lives, and we make that happen.”

Occupational therapy is the only clinical therapy whose primary focus is to increase independence with activities of daily living, including all aspects of independent living skills.  This is accomplished by separating tasks into achievable goals to improve function and independence.  Occupational therapists use strategies like active listening and empathy to help a person better define what goal they would like to work on, and from there, a treatment plan evolves.

“When I start to work with an individual, the question I want to answer is what is going to make this person come alive?  What do they want to do differently?” said Kelly Langdon, Citizen Advocates’ in-house occupational therapist.

For Edward Gehrig, the answer came as a surprise to many of those around him: He wanted to learn how to snowboard.

“Planning is everything”

The first goal that Mr. Gehrig’s wanted to overcome was the simple fact that snowboarding can be an expensive hobby.  To better save for his goal, Ms. Langdon encouraged him to write down his expenses in a ledger and balance it each day to determine how he was spending his money.  Beginning in December of last year, Gehrig did just that.

“Having something that I want to do makes saving money easier,” Gehrig said.  “If I’m not motivated, I’ll buy a lot of stuff.”

The snowboarding goal also allowed Mr. Gehrig to work on additional tasks, including exercise and endurance, social skills and self-esteem building.

Around the same time, another of Ms. Langdon’s clients, Pedro Martinez, expressed an interest in something he hadn’t done in quite some time: Snowtubing. 

Pedro Martinez is ready for the day.

A competitive snowshoer, Mr. Martinez works with Ms. Langdon to stay active.  She assists him with healthy food choices and planning his exercise routine, encouraging him to go on bicycle rides with his housemates and often conducting their sessions while on walks.  To save for a day of snowtubing, they also focused on the importance of budgeting.

A fun day on the mountain

One snowy day in early March, Ms. Langdon ventured to Titus Mountain in Malone with Mr. Gehrig, Mr. Martinez, Clarkson University occupational therapy student Jasmelin Cruz and direct support professional Eric Myers for a day of snowboarding and snowtubing that served as the culmination of months of work.

With the help of snowboarding instructor Anna Rumfola, who donated her time, Mr. Gehrig learned the fundamentals of snowboarding and by the end of the afternoon, was able to successfully snowboard down the learning hill on his own.

“All the planning and budgeting was worth it,” Mr. Gehrig said.  “It was awesome.  I’d love to do this again.”

“It was so much fun,” Mr. Martinez said.

Caring for the whole you

Ms. Langdon has been with Citizen Advocates for 27 years, starting as a relief Direct Support Professional while still in college.  For her, the most fulfilling part of the job is still seeing a person accomplish their goals.

“Seeing Eddie achieving his goal—snowboarding with the biggest smile on his face—was the most rewarding feeling,” she said.