OT students help senior citizens navigate the digital world, address the need for programming

For a group of Quinnipiac occupational therapy students, learning hands-on with clients during the summer felt more natural than being in a traditional classroom setting.

Working on site at both the Keefe Community Center and the Miller Memorial Central Library Cultural Center, Hamden’s Public Library, the students recognized a need for digital training and stepped up to the plate to help — and put what they learned in the classroom to good use.

At the Miller Memorial Central Library Cultural Center specifically, students have been teaching older individuals about mindfulness, sleep, community involvement, social media and online healthcare applications like MyChart.

The student-run 5-week initiative includes two sessions every Tuesday — one at 10 a.m. and another at 1 p.m. at the library. The programming started in late May and will conclude on June 27.

“We have been working on the Digital Navigator Program at the Hamden Public Library since 2022 and one of the components of the program that we found to be lacking was healthcare,” said Robert Gagne ’12, the leader of the program and a Quinnipiac School of Communications alumnus. “When the opportunity came up to collaborate with occupational therapy students at Quinnipiac to put on different programming each week, it gave the program another layer. For me, it has been really exciting as a Quinnipiac graduate to work with students from Quinnipiac and give back to the local community together.”

Gagne, leading all digital navigation efforts at the Hamden Public Library and acting as a liaison between the library and Quinnipiac’s occupational therapy students, described the opportunity as a neat, full-circle moment for him.

Current students say they feel similarly, holding the connection and impact they have made close to their hearts.

“My favorite part of the experience has been forming relationships with the clients and community,” said Morgan Miller ’23, MOT ’25. “I was nervous at first that we weren’t going to be able to have many interactions with each individual, but every week we have had a larger turnout for each session and I really look forward to coming in each week and seeing that first-hand.”

Fellow occupational therapy student Sam D’Amicantonio ’23, MOT ’25, expanded on the formation of these meaningful connections as well as her personal experience working in the program.

“We, as students, came into this in a very untraditional setting, we aren’t doing what most of our other classmates are doing,” she said. “It has been really amazing to see what the community needs from us and turning that into events that also correlate to our curriculum. Everyone who shows up wants to be here with us, they aren’t here because they need to be here, rather they really, truly want to be here every Tuesday.”

In addition to Miller and D’Amicantonio, Molly Sawyer ’23, MOT ’25, Migdalia Wood ’23, MOT ’25 and Paige Velie ’23, MOT ’25, were part of the group working tirelessly toward equipping individuals with the skills to navigate the digital world.

Joyce Asante and her caregiver, Bryna Mooney, couldn’t be thankful enough for the group of students and their efforts.

Unable to work, Asante wanted to strengthen her ties within the community and immerse herself in impactful work, such as volunteering but didn’t know where to start looking.

“The students were kind enough to help me find a volunteering position through an app called Hello Hamden,” said Asante. “They also helped me learn how to meditate for when I had free time at home. I couldn’t understand it the first time, but they explained it to me again and now I know it by heart and do it all the time.”

Being a caregiver to Asante, Mooney sees the impact the programming has on her first-hand.

“This is just so good for Joyce and others because there are not many places where you can learn these skills,” she said. “I wouldn’t know where to go if it wasn’t for this program. The girls are so passionate about teaching and giving back it is so amazing, I can’t say enough about it and could go on and on about how wonderful these girls are. Joyce has a reason to get up each morning because of this program, it has been something she really looks forward to.”

Coming each week with Asante, Mooney said she has also felt the impact.

“I have never meditated in my life, but the girls taught us how to meditate and showed us different apps we could use,” she said. “I’m a person who didn't know to text three months ago and don't consider myself to be very computer savvy, but coming into this program, we were treated like we were so special and like I said, I’m a caregiver and it is very important for my friend here, Joyce, to come to programs like these and learn. The students have been so patient and kind and that’s the most important thing to me. They are just so committed to this program and it has been absolutely phenomenal. This is the greatest group ever and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet them.”

Both loved the program so much that they don’t want it to end, they explained.

“I really hope this program continues, I would love to have these girls here all the time,” said Mooney.

Because of their memorable experiences these past couple of weeks, they are both looking forward to the events later in the month hosted on Quinnipiac’s campuses in collaboration with AARP, the Hamden Library and the Hamden Police Department.

The two events, “Inside the Mind of a Criminal – Fraud Prevention Session,” are scheduled for Friday, June 23 from noon to 1 p.m. in the Rocky Top Student Center room 311 on Quinnipiac’s York Hill Campus, 305 Sherman Ave., and on Monday, June 26 from 6 to 7 p.m. in Echlin 101 on Quinnipiac’s Mount Carmel Campus, 275 Mount Carmel Ave., and are both open to the public.

“Joyce and I will definitely be there,” said Mooney. “We can’t wait.”

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