Occupational Therapist Lifts Spirits in Appalachia

Occupational therapist and patient

How far will an occupational therapist go to help people reach their goals? Stephanie Morse, who works in sub-acute rehab at West Suburban Hospital, drove all the way from Chicago to Kentucky with one goal: to help people live a better life.

Last summer, Stephanie went to Whitley, Kentucky, with a group of high school students and parents to repair homes and complete small jobs for residents there. A team of 78 people, including 52 students, drove nearly 10 hours in a convoy of passenger vans. They stayed at a local elementary center and put in a week of demanding but satisfying work.

For most, it was the journey of a lifetime.

At first, Stephanie’s 15-year-old son Caleb had been reluctant to go on the Appalachian Service Project mission. He didn’t know anyone who was going and he didn’t know much about home repair. During the trip, however, Caleb discovered first-hand all the good young people can do when they get together to help others. And, with enthusiasm, he signed up in advance for next year’s trip.

Caleb wasn’t the only one to have a change of heart. Based on the time teenagers spend on cell phones and social media, Stephanie had come to believe that many of them were self-absorbed and unmotivated. On the trip she learned that, given the opportunity, teens will work hard and show genuine compassion.

Stephanie and her crew did a series of repairs on an elderly couple’s home. Although the husband had a bad back and was unemployed, he actively helped and encouraged the team in any way he could. Because it was a nonmedical service mission, Stephanie couldn’t provide physical therapy to ease the man’s pain. But she saw the healing that serving others often brings.

“As a physical therapist, my goal is to keep people active and in their homes,” says Stephanie, “That’s exactly what we did by meeting new people and helping with repairs. It was a wonderful experience.”