Distant holiday, local impact

Rehabilitation sciences student Korynna Pepin leads a group of children in an exercise session.
Photo: Pilar Carmona

Sunshine and the warmth of joining together for a common cause made April 22 special for a research team in the Department of Occupational Therapy and its community partners.

The occasion, which drew more than 1000 people, was the 21st Annual Día del Niño (Day of the Child) Health Walk and Family Festival held by the National Museum of Mexican Art and co-sponsored by UI Health. El Día del Niño is a national holiday in Mexico, a day when families celebrate their children.

The event was a natural fit for Healthy Families, an initiative led by OT professor and department head Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar to improve health and participation in the community for Latinos with disabilities and their families. The project works in partnership with El Valor, a social services agency in Pilsen.

Faculty, students and families involved in the Healthy Families initiative started the day with a Zumba class before joining a two-mile health walk from the museum to the UIC Pavilion.

OT and RS students from left to right: Shikha Bansal, Amy Early, OT department head and professor Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar, Dalmina Arias, Korynna Pepin and Amalia Zeidman.

On the walk, some of them carried signs relating to pedestrian hazards in Pilsen found by a Healthy Families walkability and participation study. People in the community walk every day to engage in their daily activities. Through the participatory research study, families identified walking as a safety concern.

Activities at the UIC Pavilion included games, art and performances with the Chicago Fire and the White Sox Retro Runners, among others. Free health screenings and wellness information were offered by UI Health, with representatives from the colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry and Applied Health Sciences.

For the students in occupational therapy and rehabilitation sciences who participated, it was a chance to interact with the community and promote healthy lifestyles. “All the things they learn in the classroom, they practice and see in action by engaging with the community,” Suarez-Balcazar said. “It was great to connect our participatory research project with civic engagement.”