Kari Tanta: Mentoring and Volunteering
Kari Tanta, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA
As an adjunct faculty member at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, and the program coordinator of the Children’s Therapy Department at Valley Medical Center in Renton, Washington, Kari wouldn’t seem to have a lot of free time. But she still manages to promote the profession in ways that have a big impact.
Kari says that mentorship is important to her because she had great mentors herself; therefore, she uses her clinic to educate potential occupational therapy students. She starts by hosting potential students at the clinic to discuss the profession. Those who show strong interest can then apply to be a volunteer and to participate in a 12-week program.
The program Kari designed is not just a shadowing situation. Initially the volunteers are introduced to general occupational therapy tenets, then they learn about specific interventions, based on the clients they see and the therapists they are working with. They also are encouraged to be proactive (e.g., some volunteers have updated the games and the art room). After observing therapists and clients, they are encouraged to design a treatment activity for the therapist to try. After it has been implemented, the therapist and volunteer discuss what did or didn’t work, and why. The volunteers may also attend meetings and in-services, so they get a full flavor of what it means to be an occupational therapist.
Each of the volunteers works 3 to 4 hours a week in the clinic. Kari acknowledges that the program is a lot of work for her and the clinic staff, but when volunteers make the commitment to come for 12 weeks, everyone is willing to commit to them, particularly because the profession as a whole gains a lot from them.
Her hard work has paid off. Kari says that some of these volunteers have returned to work in her clinic after they become therapists, and many have kept in touch during OT school, sometimes doing things like helping her with research.
When she’s not at her paid jobs, Kari is often volunteering at her son’s elementary school, where she also promotes the profession. The school has a very part time occupational therapist and occupational therapy assistant, so Kari hosted the backpack awareness day in September. Her son got in on the promotion, proudly announcing, “My mom’s an OT!” (Her son also loves attending AOTA’s Annual Conference & Expo each year himself!) Kari also has done things like demonstrating pencil grip for kindergarteners and shoe tying with first graders—activities that the in-school practitioners don’t have time to address, but that help boost recognition of the value of occupational therapy.
Recently, Kari did a presentation to the school’s PTA where she discussed how sensory issues can affect all children in the classroom, along with simple interventions to help these children focus. As a result the PTA allocated $5,000 for sensory kits for each classroom, and they agreed to a line item in the budget to replace items that are depleted. Kari is creating the kits and will provide in-services and one-on-one training for teachers to ensure that the items are used appropriately. One reason for her success with this project was the fact that she already is very familiar to the school personnel from her other volunteer activities, so they trust her judgment. (She notes that she proceeded with this project after consulting with the Special Education director and with the blessing of the school practitioners.) In fact, the principal noted that she would rather have Kari use her occupational therapy skills when volunteering in the school rather than staying in the copy room.
This sentiment reflects the gist of how Kari is able to promote the profession despite a full schedule. “If you have kids in the school, or parents in a retirement home, that’s where you are,” she notes. If something needs to be addressed, and you’re there anyway, consider taking it a step further so others can see how occupational therapy helps others to live life to its fullest.