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Staff Spot­light: Meet Nicole, Occu­pa­tion­al Therapist

KYC is hon­ored to high­light the work that our team mem­bers do with­in and beyond our agency – team mem­bers like Nicole tru­ly exem­pli­fy our vision that Togeth­er We Thrive. By shar­ing her pas­sion for her work through the Amer­i­can Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­py Association’s (AOTA) Men­tal Health Spe­cial Inter­est Sec­tion Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, she is help­ing to bring oth­er tal­ent­ed stu­dents and young pro­fes­sion­als to the men­tal health field and help­ing clients con­nect with the vital resources they need to achieve their goals.

Build­ing Con­nec­tions, Build­ing Careers

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Nicole Bark­er, OTR/L, is an Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­pist with KYC’s Com­mu­ni­ty Liv­ing team. I’m one of two front-line treat­ment Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­pists. I help fig­ure out what peo­ple need to lead ful­fill­ing, mean­ing­ful lives with the sup­ports they need for inde­pen­dence,” Nicole explains.

Nicole’s pas­sion for help­ing clients achieve their goals is clear – as she talks about her work, her ener­gy and com­mit­ment to her clients, her team, and her pro­fes­sion are unde­ni­able and inspir­ing. This is undoubt­ed­ly why she was select­ed to serve a three-year term on the Amer­i­can Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­py Asso­ci­a­tion (AOTA) Men­tal Health Spe­cial Inter­est Sec­tion Stand­ing Com­mit­tee as both the New Pro­fes­sion­als Coor­di­na­tor and the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Coordinator.

The Com­mit­tee seeks to pro­mote the devel­op­ment and growth of the role of Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­py (OT) in men­tal health – some­thing that Nicole is keen­ly pas­sion­ate about. She shares dual roles on the Com­mit­tee, which she shares with anoth­er OT pro­fes­sion­al. Nicole has a spe­cial focus on pro­mot­ing men­tal health care as part of OT treat­ment, and in pro­mot­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­pists who are new­ly-grad­u­at­ed or ear­ly in their careers. I want to con­vert as many OT stu­dents into being inter­est­ed in men­tal health as pos­si­ble, as well as bring fur­ther atten­tion to our his­tor­i­cal role of men­tal health providers,” she shares. She also helps dis­sem­i­nate the lat­est eval­u­a­tion meth­ods and growth oppor­tu­ni­ties among oth­er Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­pists across the coun­try – knowl­edge that she can bring right back to her own work with clients at KYC.

Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­py as a Men­tal Health Profession

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AOTA states that Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­py (OT) is a branch of health care that helps peo­ple across the lifes­pan par­tic­i­pate in the things they want and need to do through the ther­a­peu­tic use of every­day activ­i­ties (occu­pa­tions). It has some over­lap with nurs­ing and a lot in com­mon with social work. I deeply appre­ci­ate the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work with both as part of my team,” Nicole shares.

Nicole explains that at its roots, OT was ground­ed in men­tal health work around the end of World War I, as sol­diers were return­ing home, and were deal­ing with what was then termed shell shock,” in addi­tion to phys­i­cal impair­ments. Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­pists helped sol­diers rein­te­grate to dai­ly life by guid­ing them to adapt to their every­day liv­ing envi­ron­ments. The field lat­er became more focused on help­ing peo­ple adapt to med­ical and phys­i­cal ail­ments, but in recent years, the field has returned more focus to men­tal health.

As an Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­pist, Nicole com­pletes eval­u­a­tions to address clients’ com­plex needs, help­ing them build dai­ly rou­tines and strength­en skills of dai­ly liv­ing. That could include help­ing peo­ple with get­ting dressed in the morn­ing, tak­ing med­ica­tions at the right time, learn­ing how to clean your apart­ment, up to com­plex things like col­lab­o­rat­ing on envi­ron­men­tal mod­i­fi­ca­tions to their apart­ments, such as deter­min­ing if equip­ment like wheel­chairs or oth­er devices are need­ed.” Nicole shares that the Col­bert & Williams Decrees in par­tic­u­lar were ground­break­ing, because we’re going back to [the Class Mem­bers’] nat­ur­al envi­ron­ments – going in to someone’s home can let you do exact­ly what you need to do for them, rather than sim­u­lat­ing in a hos­pi­tal environment.”

Help­ing Clients Live As Inde­pen­dent­ly As Pos­si­ble: Col­bert & Williams Con­sent Decrees

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Kenneth Young Center is honored to highlight Nicole and the work of our Occupational Therapists and Community Living team as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations. Through our #KYC50For50 campaign, we're highlighting 50 stories, events, and updates as we honor 50 years of service to our communities.

I work with our clients who are mem­bers of the Col­bert & Williams Con­sent Decree class­es, mov­ing them out of nurs­ing home place­ments into as inde­pen­dent of a liv­ing set­ting as is pos­si­ble for them,” Nicole shares.

As Nicole sum­ma­rizes, the Col­bert and Williams Con­sent Decrees are an out­growth of law­suits relat­ed to the Med­ic­aid Olm­stead Deci­sion at the Supreme Court that said that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties (phys­i­cal and men­tal, includ­ing men­tal health) have a right to live in the com­mu­ni­ty first, before being insti­tu­tion­al­ized. (You can find more infor­ma­tion about the Decrees on the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Human Ser­vices web­site here.)

Each Class Mem­ber needs per­son­al­ized sup­port and resources to live safe­ly in the com­mu­ni­ty based upon their phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al, and men­tal health needs. Some­times it’s as sim­ple as teach­ing them how to use grab bars in their show­ers, or as com­plex as craft­ing a new dai­ly rou­tine now that they are no longer insti­tu­tion­al­ized,” shares Nicole.

A Holis­tic Approach to Men­tal Health

With the addi­tion of Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­pists to our team at KYC, we’re able to pro­vide per­son­al­ized wrap-around ser­vices to the peo­ple we serve. At KYC, we’re con­tin­u­ing to pro­mote the [OT] pro­fes­sion, and the need for this role as we fill in the gaps of clients’ needs,” shares Nicole, who has been with KYC for a year and a half. Our depart­ment has hired more Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­pists as Clin­i­cal Care Man­agers, a dif­fer­ent way to apply our pro­fes­sion’s skillset effec­tive­ly. Peo­ple at KYC real­ly do have an active com­mit­ment to a team approach – it’s boots on the ground and col­lab­o­ra­tive work – and have a goal in mind that we’re talk­ing togeth­er to work things out for clients. I give a huge shout-out to my team­mate and fel­low OT, Alyssa Dalei­den OTR/L, QMHP, and the rest of the Com­mu­ni­ty Liv­ing Team!”

Through our unique depth and breadth of ser­vices, KYC strives to con­nect com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers with all of the resources they need to live their best lives.

Cel­e­brat­ing Nicole

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KYC is proud to cel­e­brate all that Nicole has done to sup­port the peo­ple she serves, her team, and the OT pro­fes­sion­al com­mu­ni­ty. Con­grat­u­la­tions on your accep­tance to the AOTA Men­tal Health Com­mit­tee, and for all you do to help oth­ers thrive!

Careers at KYC

Ken­neth Young Cen­ter offers a vari­ety of career oppor­tu­ni­ties for tal­ent­ed pro­fes­sion­als look­ing to make an impact in our com­mu­ni­ties. Check out our open posi­tions if you’re look­ing to grow your career.

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of cas­es of men­tal ill­ness begin by age 14.

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