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Alumna Uses Recreation to Aid People with Disabilities

Written by Sabina Leybold

Sara Fisher '14 works with a client at IC's Center for Life Skills. Photo by Jacob Beil '15

A single class session can change a student’s entire life. Just ask Sara Fisher ’14. Fisher entered Ithaca College via the Exploratory Program and signed up for a course called Understanding Disability. A few weeks into the semester, Linda Heyne, a professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, visited Fisher’s class to recommend the Introduction to Therapeutic Recreation course she offers to students. The description of the class sparked Fisher’s interest, and she registered for the course the next semester.

The Relationships that Move Her

Fisher, who has two uncles with disabilities, soon discovered her passion for working with the disabled population through recreation.

“My family connection, combined with liking sports, led me into the field,” she said. “Therapeutic recreation was a way to do something I loved while helping people and having fun.”

Even before graduating from Ithaca College, Fisher began helping people through IC’s Center for Life Skills, where health science students teach and practice activities of daily living with community members who have experienced neurological damage. At the center, Fisher collaborated with physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology students to create and apply treatment plans for clients. While Fisher values the clinical skills she learned there, the personal relationships really inspired her.

“I had one client at the Center for Life Skills for the whole year that I really connected with,” Fisher said. “She liked cultural projects. We made pin-string maps of Germany, where she lived for a few years, to work on fine motor and planning skills. During the project, I asked her about her experiences in Germany, and she smiled as she told me stories.”

In addition to fine motor and planning skills, Fisher’s client also wanted to strengthen her left arm and hand, which had been affected by her stroke. So together they worked on a quilted pillow project to improve those muscles while engaging her creativity.

“She and her family said how much our programs helped her after having a stroke to re-enter the community and do the types of recreation she wanted to do,” Fisher said. “It was really inspiring and rewarding to hear that we made a real impact on her life.”

The Value of Fieldwork

Fisher’s other fieldwork as an IC student included working in behavioral services units, a preschool, and at residential care facilities.

“The fieldwork classes, for me, were the best classes that I took at Ithaca,” Fisher said. “Ithaca offers lots of different settings with various abilities and diagnoses, so we can find which area we want to explore more. Those experiences made me even more excited about the field.”

After graduation, Fisher landed an internship in Fort Collins, Colorado, working in recreation with people with a range of disabilities, including veterans. She now works in Denver developing recreational and social programs for adults and teenagers, and working with Special Olympics.

It could have been intimidating for Fisher to enter the workforce after graduation, but she felt prepared.

“Basically everything I learned at Ithaca applied to my current position, both the hands-on aspect and the planning part,” she said. “My class assignments would have us make up a program and lead it either in front of other students or in a real fieldwork setting. This taught me the fundamentals, so I could lead an actual program at my job.”

Discovering Leadership

Outside of class, she also developed skills that transferred to her work environment. In fact, according to Fisher, one of the biggest boosts to her skill development came with a change in lacrosse programs.

“I switched from the varsity lacrosse team to the club lacrosse team, and that had a huge impact on me,” she said. “The club team was where I really started to develop my leadership skills. During my senior year, I was the secretary of the team and a captain, so I gave advice on lacrosse and school to younger students and served as a leadership figure for them.”

Fisher’s experience in the Exploratory Program made her aware of some useful advice for current and future students alike: Don’t be afraid to try new things. You might surprise yourself.

“I thought I wanted to work with kids when I started, but I love working with adults more. I was only able to come to that decision because I tried out as much as I could,” Fisher said. “Explore your surroundings. You might find something new that you really love that you didn’t know you would. Don’t be afraid. You’ll grow and have new experiences. It’s so worthwhile to do that when you’re young.” 



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