May 29, 2009

Answer to a prayer: Volunteers share occupational therapy outreach that could be model for other schools

Volunteer Janie Kabrick helps William Kathman, a second-grade student at St. Charles Borromeo School in Bloomington, with a handwriting lesson on April 1. Kabrick is an occupational therapist who works with first- and second-graders one day a week at the school. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

Volunteer Janie Kabrick helps William Kathman, a second-grade student at St. Charles Borromeo School in Bloomington, with a handwriting lesson on April 1. Kabrick is an occupational therapist who works with first- and second-graders one day a week at the school. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

By Mike Krokos

BLOOMINGTON—When Janie Kabrick heard Dr. Kevin Kathman speak at a Parent Teacher Organization meeting at St. Charles Borromeo School in Bloomington in November of 2007, it was an answer to a prayer.

Kathman, who began volunteer-based occupational therapy at the school in the fall of 2006, was concerned that a new job he had just accepted might limit his volunteer schedule at the school.

Enter Kabrick, a stay-at-home mom with children enrolled at St. Charles Borromeo School, who also happens to be a licensed occupational therapist interested in helping with Kathman’s volunteer ministry.

“For a person of faith, that was a complete answer to prayer,” Kathman said, “of how we could do more.”

“I just thought it was really amazing, that he [Kathman] had the passion and initiative to kind of start this on his own,” said Kabrick, who has a daughter, Katie, in the sixth grade, and another daughter, Hannah, in kindergarten, at the school.

The school-based occupational therapy at St. Charles Borromeo is designed to enhance students’ ability to fully access and be successful in their learning environment, reads the mission statement for occupational therapy on the school’s Web site.

“This might include working on fine motor skills, such as handwriting, helping organize the working environment, and working with the student and teacher to modify or adapt learning materials to facilitate successful participation in the classroom,” the Web site notes.

An occupational therapy pre-referral form is available as a guide to see how a student compares to other children of similar age and experience. It is meant to help teachers and parents refer students to the appropriate occupational therapy service.

Some of the areas of question on the pre-referral form include:

  • Ability to stay in seat.
  • Legibility of handwriting.
  • Waiting/walking in line.
  • Frequency of letter/number reversals.
  • Ability to tie shoes.
  • Paper management skills.

Parents must sign a permission slip to allow their child to participate in the occupational therapy program, which is provided at no cost to the family or school.

The occupational therapists work with students in

first- through eighth-grade, and Indiana University students who are considering careers in occupational therapy or education are also part of the volunteer effort, said Kathman, who is employed by Orthopedics of Southern Indiana in Bloomington and earned a doctorate at Creighton University.

Kathman’s son, William, 7, is a special-needs student, and the second-grader works with Kabrick through the volunteer occupational therapy outreach at the school.

Though his son attended a public school for kindergarten, Kathman said William feels very much at home in a parochial school. The lessons of faith that are part of the curriculum are evident to the father of seven, too.

“I feel like the Catholic school environment, and this one in particular, has been positive at making it a community responsibility to educate,” he said. “I think the teachers and many of the parents have not lost sight that that education is not just that child with a special need, or anyone that’s different, but for the quote ‘normal’ or the exceptional person that is very gifted because now they learn that they are responsible for their brother. That’s the big lesson.”

Jennifer Urbanski, who teaches the combined second- and third-grade class at St. Charles Borromeo School, said having the occupational therapists and IU students volunteer at the school is a plus for St. Charles students and teachers.

“It alleviates a lot of stress for kids who need extra help,” she said. “We can also utilize them [the volunteers] for the things that we just don’t have time to do,” like helping a small group of students with a certain skill that they don’t understand, she said.

“It just gives us [teachers] more time, which I never have enough of,” Urbanski added.

Students love the volunteers, Urbanski said, because “it’s a new person with a new smile, somebody else to love.”

Though Kathman admits the volunteer ministry is still “a program in development,” people like Principal Alec Mayer are impressed with the outreach.

“I am impressed because Dr. Kathman and Mrs. Kabrick are two people that really know their profession, but more importantly, in my eyes, they truly profess the volunteerism of the Catholic faith,” he said. “Giving of their time to help students improve their skills is a true asset to the St. Charles community.”

Parents and teachers are grateful for the program, Mayer said, and the ministry is an example of building community.

“Collaboration between teachers, parents and volunteers is what makes us so successful at St. Charles Borromeo,” he said. “We could not do all the things we do without parents and volunteers.”

Father William Stumpf, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, agreed.

“It’s [this program] a wonderful gift to our school and our children. We really can’t provide this on our own,” he said.

The pastor said the school community is grateful to Kathman, Kabrick and all the people who have volunteered with the program “for starting this and following through on it.”

Father Stumpf added that he hopes other schools use it as a model.

“I really hope they start this [type of program] in other schools,” he said. “I know there is really a need.”

Kathman and Kabrick, who are members of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, are committed to continuing to help build community through their volunteer ministry.

“Teachers are becoming more comfortable [with us],” said Kabrick, who earned a bachelor of science degree in occupational therapy at Indiana University. “Kevin has done talks to the PTO, and I’ve done one in-service [program] for the teachers on a very developmental approach to handwriting. From that, it’s amazing how many times somebody will catch you in the hallways and say, ‘What do you suggest in this situation?’ ”

While St. Charles Borromeo has become a more diverse school and parish in recent years, the respect and acceptance shown for programs like the occupational therapy volunteer outreach has grown as well, Kabrick said.

“That’s what community is supposed to be,” Kathman said.

(For more information on the volunteer occupational therapy outreach at St. Charles Borromeo School, log on to

Local site Links: