Exhausted yet triumphant, Charles Yodonise supervised placement of the last shovel-full of mulch around the landscaped “Sensory Path” that he and his team of volunteers installed the weekend of Oct. 19 –20, 2012, for reConnect, Inc. in Westminster, Md., completing his challenging Eagle Scout Project.
Yodonise and his team of volunteers installed a paved walk way along one side of the building, re-landscaped both sides of the 80’ Therapy Building, and created areas for families to rest together and paths for the Occupational Therapists of reConnect to lead clients along all as part of reConnect’s unique Equine Assisted Occupational Therapy (EAOT) program, reQUEST.
In the months leading up to the project, Yodonise met with Clinical Director Jacqueline Wilson and attended an Open House at reConnect to learn as much as he could about the specific needs of reConnect. With Wilson and Executive Director Linda Oland, Yodonise created a design that would provide a “Stimulation Side” with a hard pathway of colored pavers that encourage activity and increased sensory input, and a “Calming Side” with a winding, mulch path and river stone pond area with benches that is soothing and restful. There is also a patio area which is designated for seating for families and groups as they wait for their session. Yodonise raised the funds to purchase the necessary supplies and created a volunteer team for the weekend of the actual installation of the walk.
Volunteers came from many places. Some were fellow-scouts like Yodonise himself, several having completed their own Eagle Scout projects. Some were associated with Best Intentions Farm, the host farm for reConnect’s EAOT project, and some were there simply because Yodonise asked them to help.
Yodonise even asked his dentist.
“I was here helping reConnnect build their therapy building two years ago and I know how effective their therapy has been,” said Dr. Collin Steinweg of All Smiles Dental Associates. “When Charles asked me to help with his Eagle Scout project I was really excited to see the growth and expansion that had occurred since I was there last. I know what a difference this will make to a lot of people. Our office was glad to be a sponsor.”
Yodonise faced a lot of challenges during his project. Because the project meets specific therapeutic needs it had to be constantly approved by Wilson. The days before the actual installation brought soaking rains that made the work difficult even for professionals. Ben Wolff of Wolff Tree and Landscape volunteered his time and equipment, as he showed up before 8 a.m. on Saturday morning with his skid-loader to prepare the site.
Oland decided to move the tiled pathway just days before construction was set to begin.
“The original site of the pathway was subject to a lot of water run-off and the potential for long-term damage to the pathway was too great,” said Oland. “Charles’s project is too important to run that risk.”
This last minute change presented design challenges to Yodonise and his team, but he calmly reassessed the situation and made the onsite adjustments as needed.
“He was very sensitive to meeting the real needs of the project,” Oland said. “His ability to adapt to changes saved the whole project from damage from Hurricane Sandy.”
The project impacted clients and their families even in the construction phase. Bob Crawford and his son Darrin were there Saturday and Sunday. Darrin suffered a traumatic brain injury more than 20 years ago as a young adult, and was referred to reConnect for therapy services earlier this year.
“I know that Darrin thoroughly enjoyed being at the farm and being able to participate as he did. There was never any doubt as to whether we would be back on the second day,” Crawford said. “One could see that many of the helpers had never been involved in doing that type of work [before]. However, it did not take long for them to be fully involved and comfortable. It was great.”
Wilson noted that it is this ability to adapt and change that embodies reConnect’s goals.
“Charles was able to assess the environment, adapt his plan to meet unexpected challenges, communicate his plan effectively to his team in order to complete the task ahead of schedule and listen to the specific needs given to him,” said Wilson. “It’s these qualities that we work to bring out in each of our sessions.”
Wilson, who is also the Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the Institute of Well Being at Towson University, was excited at the collaborative effort of Occupational Therapy students from Towson as two teams volunteered on Saturday and Sunday.
To gain additional experience outside of the classroom, the students took Yodonise’s plan and arranged the plants and softscape elements to provide the greatest therapeutic impact for clients of reConnect.
“This Eagle Scout project has already had a far-reaching impact on our communities,” said Oland. “By having these experiences the students will be much better Providers.
And our clients, who range from children to adults with a need and desire to function better in their occupations, will all benefit for many years to come from what was accomplished here this weekend.”
reConnect, Inc., a non-profit fund of the Community Foundation of Carroll County, combines traditional occupational therapy methods with additional sensory input and feedback provided by the horses to help individuals and families facing a wide variety of issues such as delayed development, Autism, poor communication and social skills, brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. They provide individual and family sessions as well as Social Participation Groups and even date nights for couples seeking to communicate and work together better.