Lori’s Hands gives back to Detroit community, prepares students for healthcare field

Written by Associate Professor Preethy Samuel, Ph.D., OTRL, and Master of Occupational Therapy student Shanmin Sultana

two student volunteers for Lori's Hands stand with their client Jim in his kitchen
Pictured left to right: Lori’s Hands client Jim with WSU MOT students Kyle Racho and Talia Rebottaro helping him with the dishes in his home. Photo courtesy of Maddi Gale-Laman.

The U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released an advisory earlier this year sounding the alarm on the widespread public health epidemic of loneliness and social isolation in the U.S., linking them to increased risk for heart disease, dementia, stroke, mental health challenges, and even premature death among older adults. Lori’s Hands, a nonprofit organization founded in Delaware, addresses these problems by creating mutually beneficial, intergenerational partnerships between college students and older adults living with chronic illnesses.

In September 2022, the Wayne State University Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Master of Occupational Therapy (WSU MOT) program piloted the Lori’s Hands program, which was initially established in the Metro Detroit region in partnership with faculty at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). This partnership was made possible by funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to EMU (Principal Investigator Christina Marsack-Topolewski, Ph.D., LMSW) to support aging adults in the Metro Detroit area. WSU’s involvement in this community partnership comes as no surprise: both share a common goal of fostering meaningful relationships in the local, urban community.

Pictured left to right: Lori’s Hands client Jim with WSU MOT students Kyle Racho and Talia Rebottaro grocery shopping in the community. Photo courtesy of Maddi Gale-Laman.

WSU MOT Class of 2024 students began by volunteering in small groups on a weekly basis with their matched clients in fall 2022 as a requirement for their Health Conditions (OT 5410) course taught by Preethy Samuel, Ph.D., OTRL. Students made weekly visits to their clients to provide emotional and practical support with activities like housekeeping and dog walking. Simultaneously, students gained valuable knowledge of the firsthand experiences of living with chronic conditions, which they will likely encounter in their future healthcare careers. In the classroom, the students presented their observations of clients in their natural environment to grow in clinical reasoning needed as health care professionals.

Many of these students continued to participate in Lori's Hands in the winter of 2023 to complete their course requirements for Health Conditions II (OT 5420) taught by Doreen Head, Ph.D., OTRL, director of the WSU OT program. Students gained a practical understanding of how mental health conditions affect community-dwelling seniors in the Wayne County area. In spring 2023, students continued to observe and evaluate cognitive and visual perception challenges faced by their clients while enrolled in the Cognitive Visual Perception (OT 5150) course taught by Samuel. 

WSU MOT Class of 2023 volunteered with Lori’s Hands during the fall of 2022 to complete the course requirements for Life Occupations II (OT 5065) taught by Regina N. Parnell, Ph.D., OTRL. While interacting with seniors in their homes, students were required to complete weekly assignments such as helping clients create health goals and develop culturally sensitive leisure plans.

“I did community work with the elderly population in the past, but it was indirect,” one student said. “This time it was eye-opening to work with the older population directly," said student volunteer Gabrielle Najor. 


Diane Elizabeth Adamo, Ph.D., M.S., OTR
Department chair
Pharmacy and health sciences

“Compassion is at the core of effective and meaningful clinical practice. Students practice compassion and caring through volunteer opportunities offered by Lori’s Hands that, in turn, shape them into exceptional healthcare specialists. Practice and partnership with an interdisciplinary team benefit the student experience and the people who are entrusted to their care.”

Cathy Lyscak, Ph.D., OTC
Occupational therapy

“First-hand experiences in the ‘real world’ are a powerful force,” said Cathy Lyscak, Ph.D., M.S. “This learning raises awareness and challenges changes attitudes. Lori's Hands and programs like it transform our students into caring healthcare professionals that understand social forces that impact health. And it challenges them to become even better healthcare practitioners in the future.”

Maddi Gale-Laman, LMSW
WSU program manager

“I have had clients who have shared with me that their favorite part of the week is when their Lori's Hands students visit. As a social worker who previously worked with older adults, the need for a program such as Lori's Hands in our community was so apparent. Our healthcare system often neglects to address isolation, loneliness, and instrumental support for people living with chronic illness. It is incredibly meaningful to work for Lori's Hands and be a part of the solution.”

Grace Kubitz
Student volunteer
Occupational therapy

"Overall, this experience has really taught me the importance of building rapport with someone, gaining their trust, and placing yourself in someone else’s shoes. Marian has expressed countless times how much she really enjoys our company and that we are helping her more than we realize, but she doesn’t realize the significant role that she is playing in making me become a better clinician and learning new skills that I will carry with me throughout my career as well, and for that reason, I am forever thankful for Lori’s Hands."

Talia Rebottaro
Student volunteer
Occupational therapy

“Lori’s Hands has been such a teaching, rewarding, and amazing experience so far. It has not only been a great opportunity to work with, be a companion for, and learn from Jim, but it has also been a very eye-opening occupational therapy experience. We are able to work on being that listening ear, help someone with tasks they may usually struggle with, and also look at it from an occupational therapist perspective on how we could possibly help a client in the same situation in the future. I will forever be so thankful for this experience.”

Rachel Eckhout 
Student volunteer
Occupational therapy

"It is of great importance to understand the impact leisure can have on our overall functioning and when it comes to the older population, a lot of the time they have a difficult time engaging in activities.”

Get involved

Lori’s Hands is actively recruiting college students from Wayne State University to bridge this gap within the healthcare system while making meaningful contributions to their education. Lori’s Hands student volunteers come from varying backgrounds, ranging from pre-med students to communications majors. WSU students can sign up to volunteer or apply to become interns on the Lori’s Hands website.

Lori’s Hands has also partnered with occupational therapy faculty members Doreen Head, Regina Parnell, and Preethy Samuel to incorporate work with the organization into their course curriculums, contributing to student learning objectives and providing meaningful engagement within the Metro Detroit community. Lori’s Hands encourages other interested professors, deans, and academic professionals at WSU to contact the program manager (maddi@lorishands.org) to learn more about how this opportunity may align with their course or program.

About Lori’s Hands

Lori’s Hands was founded in Newark, DE in 2009 in memory of Lori LaFave. Lori’s Hands creates mutually beneficial, intergenerational partnerships between college students and community members with chronic illnesses. While students help with day-to-day activities made difficult by disease, clients educate students on the human experience of chronic illness. Clients report decreased isolation and improved independence, and students gain communication skills and confidence as they prepare for careers in and outside of health care. Originally founded at the University of Delaware, Lori’s Hands launched its second chapter in Baltimore, MD in 2020. Lori’s Hands established its third chapter in the Metro Detroit region in early 2022. Lori’s Hands now engages students from more than 14 colleges and universities across all three locations and has connected thousands of community members and college students in meaningful service-learning since its inception. For more information, visit the Lori’s Hands website.

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