Mustard Seed Communities: Caring for the most vulnerable

In 2019, Miriam Velsor, clinical supervisor of speech-language pathology, and Ryan Lee-James, PhD, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders, developed an exciting speech-language pathology course—over the summer, graduate students would travel together to Mustard Seed Communities, a home for children with disabilities in Kingston, Jamaica. They would learn best practices for serving diverse populations with communication disorders, while providing services to the residents there. It promised to be the sort of rich and meaningful hands-on global service learning experience that would benefit both students and the community they’d be serving.

Everything was set for the summer of 2020. And then, of course, came the spring of 2020. Instead of COVID-19 ending Adelphi’s relationship with Mustard Seed Communities (MSC), however, it marked the beginning of an ongoing commitment.

Establishing a Distance Learning Relationship

Miriam Velsor

Miriam Velsor, clinical supervisor of speech-language pathology

With travel to Jamaica impossible in 2020, Velsor quickly adjusted plans. She and several colleagues developed a virtual training for MSC’s direct care workers. “The majority of the direct care workers don’t have a healthcare background,” Velsor explained. “So we’re able to talk about autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, give some basic information and then talk about speech therapy, hearing and hearing loss, feeding and swallowing difficulties. We’re not telling the direct care workers what to do or how to do it. We’re really just empowering them with additional knowledge and giving them a chance to ask questions.”

After the success of the first virtual training, Velsor and colleagues offered another virtual training for MSC in 2021, this time including speech-language pathology and audiology graduate students as presenters. This year, Adelphi faculty and students connected with MSC once again for a third training. On April 6, Velsor, Ianthe Dunn-Murad, ScD, and Cindy G. Arroyo ’78, MA ’79, DA ’05, presented alongside two audiology graduate students and four speech-language pathology graduate students, sharing information about hearing, feeding, and speech disorders and therapies with 40 MSC care workers.

An Ongoing Collaboration

Ianthe Murad

Ianthe Dunn-Murad, ScD

Dr. Murad, who has led the trainings alongside Velsor for three years now, sees the great benefits of an ongoing relationship with MSC. “That continued collaboration has been so important. Our continuous relationship with Mustard Seed Communities means we’re there to support them, we’re able to answer questions and follow up.”

Now that MSC is open again to outside visitors, it also means that Adelphi is once again able to offer an in-person course centered around MSC. Speech Pathology in a Global Context: Kingston, Jamaica, is tentatively scheduled for January 2023.

“Our students ask for this, they want this,” says Dr. Murad. “It’s important for our students to be prepared to work with diverse patients from underserved or underrepresented populations. And when they’re able to engage in global service learning, they’re dealing with different cultures they might not see in a traditional school clinic, and they’re utilizing their skills to help someone. It’s a lifelong learning experience that widens their clinical lens.”

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