Occupational Therapy Students Find Holiday Spirit Through Giving


Friday, December 9, 2016

Like a roomful of Santa’s elves, dozens of occupational therapy (OT) students gathered in a Samuel Merritt University (SMU) classroom today to wrap holiday gifts for low-income families.

In what has become an annual tradition in SMU’s Doctor of Occupational Therapy Program, first- and second-year students “adopt” two families in need through the Brighter Beginnings Family Health Clinic in Richmond. 

Three second-year OT students – Julie Formica, Alina Lareybi and Liz Zuniga – who organized this year’s gift giving said they chose the families from a long list of candidates because they had young children and their holiday wish lists included necessities like socks and silverware.

“They weren’t asking for very much-- just basic needs,” said Zuniga.

The OT students raised more than $1,100 from their classmates and were able to buy the families everything they asked for -- including toys, educational games, clothing, shoes, grocery store gift cards, and a comforter.

Formica said she was happy to participate this year because she found last year’s effort so rewarding.

“We received a thank-you note from a single mother who described how happy her kids were,” she said. “It’s a much more personal connection when you get that note.”

The students said having a positive impact on struggling families is particularly important at Christmas. 

“If they can’t provide what they want for their families than it’s nice for us to come together and think of other people during these holiday times,” said Lareybi.