Wider Horizons

Some days, Megan Orr gets paid to play cards. Other days, going to work means going to garden.hands plants

And then there are the days that she earns her paycheque through pet therapy, or shuffleboard, or a host of other activities designed to help senior citizens maintain or improve their cognitive, social, physical or emotional abilities.

It’s all part of her work as a recreation therapist who has specialized in gerontology, which is the study of the social, psychological and biological aspects of aging. Orr earned a two-year diploma in May 2012 from the college, the only place in Canada to offer a diploma in Therapeutic Recreation – Gerontology.

“It is extremely important for recreation therapy to be a part of the community,” explains Orr, who has been working since her graduation at Blue Sky/Golden Acres Lodge as the full-time activity coordinator. “Therapeutic recreation helps people who are in facilities or in their own homes continue doing what they enjoy by removing barriers and modifying activities to suit their abilities.”

Trained practitioners are in high demand, says Kathie Ervin (Recreation and Leisure Services ‘90), the program’s advisor and an instructor at the college. That demand is only expected to grow as the baby boomer generation continues to age.

“Our program is well-known nationally,” says Ervin. “Students come across Canada to study at the college. One of the benefits the program offers is our partnerships – we have personal, professional and educational relationships that make the student experience meaningful. Even our relationships with our provincial and national organizations come back to benefit the students by providing networking and employment opportunities, giving access to experts in the field and being kept informed on the profession of therapeutic recreation as it continues to evolve rapidly.”

One of the partnerships the program enjoys is with Green Haven Garden Centre. Students took a field trip there last fall to learn the basics of gardening so that later, in their practicums and in their work, they could support and assist senior citizens they may be working with who love this pastime. This partnership allows for real hands-on learning that could not be provided in a classroom setting.

“I loved the hands-on aspect of the program,” says Orr. In addition to field trips like the one to Green Haven, “we had the opportunity to do two separate fieldwork placements in facilities where therapeutic recreation is used. To me, those two fieldwork placements were the best experience a student could gain. It really showed us what the ‘real world’ is like and how to apply our knowledge of therapeutic recreation into reallife situations.”

The next step for the college is to build partnerships with four-year degree universities where students can continue their education if they desire. The college is working closely with the University of Lethbridge to explore new opportunities that might exist between the two institutions. Currently the Therapeutic Recreation – Gerontology program at the college has four transfer agreements in place with recreation specific degree programs at Douglas College in British Columbia, the University of Regina, Dalhousie University in Halifax and the University of Waterloo.

These partnerships will become more and more important as the demand for workers in this profession increases – which it does each year.

“We know research indicates that active living promotes physical, cognitive, social and emotional health and wellness throughout the lifespan,” says Ervin. “Age, disease or disability no longer needs to be a barrier to a healthy, active leisure lifestyle. The program is about ‘living versus existing’ and teaches recreation and leisure with a purpose to achieve health and wellness.”

Wider Horizons
Lethbridge College
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