Rachel Kay Stevens had just started Occupational Therapy school at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center when she died in her sleep in January 2015 at age 21.
Her parents, Randy and Katrina Stevens of Batesville, Arkansas, wanted to honor her memory, and approached her instructors about starting a scholarship in their daughter’s name. Instead, a different idea emerged as a way to memorialize the young woman who had dreamed of becoming a pediatric occupational therapist one day.
On February 9, the doors of the new Rachel Kay Stevens Therapy Center will open on the UT Health Science Center campus. An open house and ribbon cutting is scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the center, which is located in Room 417 of the UTHSC Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities at 711 Jefferson Avenue.
According to its organizers, the Rachel Kay Stevens Therapy Center will be the only pro bono pediatric clinic in the area that will provide occupational therapy services to children and their families who are uninsured or underinsured. It will be open the first and third Tuesday of every month.
Managed and staffed primarily by OT students as volunteers, under the direct supervision of UTHSC faculty, the center will provide developmental screenings, evaluations and occupational therapy treatment for children, as well as parenting education classes. Students will also perform outreach initiatives to improve the lives of children and families in the community.
A student board of more than a dozen of Rachel’s classmates, now second-year OT students, along with faculty in the department, have been raising money through a letter-writing campaign to supplement the donation from the Stevens family. The students have been cleaning up the space for the clinic, painting walls and artwork, developing necessary paperwork, and setting up staffing plans. Donations have come from alumni, community members from Batesville, family and friends. UTHSC donated the space, equipment, and has helped with renovations.
The need is great for these services, said Anne Zachry, PhD, OTR/L, assistant professor and chair of the Occupational Therapy Department in the College of Health Professions at UTHSC. Dr. Zachry has served as the faculty adviser for the clinic. In Shelby County, more than 30 percent of children live at or below the federal poverty level, and it is estimated that more than 18,500 of those children struggle with challenges, including learning disabilities, autism, emotional challenges or other disabilities that could benefit from OT services, she said.
Early childhood OT services will also be available at the center. This is especially important because Shelby County has a high rate of premature births, which can result in developmental delays, Dr. Zachry said.
In addition to working with children on fine motor skills and behavioral issues, the center will provide education for families and teachers on how to help children with special needs.
Through this work, the center will offer OT students real-world experience and educational opportunities they otherwise would not have.
“Our goal has two layers,” Dr. Zachry said. “We plan to incorporate the clinic experience into pediatrics classes for the students. They’re going to be better practitioners because they actually have worked hands on with children who have special needs. An additional goal is community outreach. It’s a win/win for the students and the community. I am pleased we are able to honor Rachel in this way.”
Katrina Stevens, Rachel’s mom, said the center means a lot to her family. “Because of the passion Rachel had to be an occupational therapist, to see her dreams continue to impact people’s lives is a blessing to us.”