Sharaya Hill, MEd, OTD/S ’24, at Ujima.

Our Community Partners

The CELC seeks to advance occupational therapy (OT) education through experiential learning opportunities that engage them with the community. We are situated in an area of St. Louis that has significant unmet health needs and marginalized community members. The CELC provides opportunities for students to work collaboratively with community members and form unique perspectives on client-centered care in an OT educational space.

In addition to clinical competency, the CELC team wants students to have cultural humility. People of racially and culturally diverse backgrounds often experience health disparities from health-care providers. The CELC uses these five pillars as its guiding principles: trauma-informed care; climate justice; justice, equity, diversity and inclusion; evidence-based practice; and promotion of civic responsibility. This system of care must include community partners so that every individual can engage in meaningful occupations in their environment.

The Program in Occupational Therapy has cultivated relationships with more than 100 community organizations in the St. Louis region. Through the CELC, we have the opportunity to strengthen those relationships by developing capacity and community-building strategies to enhance population health. Below are four examples of community partners who are actively collaborating with the CELC and our students.

Ujima STL

Food justice, environmental stewardship and youth empowerment are Ujima’s foundations. As a nonprofit, pay-what-you-can service provider, they provide equitable access to food, education, and employment to marginalized communities. Ujima cultivates community through food justice, environmental stewardship and youth empowerment. Nick Speed, founder and executive director, learned about OT through Sprout, a business accelerator, and knew that OT would be an integral design element of Ujima’s apprenticeship program. As a result, Sharaya Hill, MEd, OTD/S ’24, is currently serving as program coordinator for the apprenticeship program.

Northside Youth and Senior Service Center

Haley Kaplan, OTD/S ’24, worked closely with the CELC team to establish a collaboration with Northside Youth and Senior Service Center (NSYSSC) in 2022. The CELC team and the WashU chapter of the Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (WU-COTAD) identified ways we can support NSYSSC’s mission and help their clients engage in meaningful occupations and improve health outcomes. Since forming this partnership, NSYSSC seniors have volunteered in classes and Case-Based Learning, and NSYSSC has served as a Fieldwork I site.

WU-COTAD member Mia Pearce, OTD/S ’25, was awarded a St. Louis Impact Fund Transform Grant in Dec. 2023 to create a workshop program for NSYSSC led by OT students using occupation-based activities. The goal is to increase the knowledge the seniors have regarding OT and provide tangible ways they can apply this knowledge to their own lives through self-reflection, group discussion and occupation-based activities. Overall, the program will promote equitable and accessible healthcare information to those who are underserved in the St. Louis area while fostering community well-being.

Urban Harvest STL

Marty Joseph, OTD ’25, completed her doctoral research project on the feasibility of establishing a student-led community garden model at Washington University in St. Louis. Community gardens have demonstrated therapeutic benefits for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health challenges, while also addressing environmental and food justice issues, particularly in low-income areas. Additionally, the gardens foster social inclusion and enhance occupational engagement. She has partnered with Urban Harvest STL, a nonprofit that grows healthy produce across a network of urban farms in the heart of St. Louis, to acquire seedlings to create the garden model described in her study.

WUSM Interprofessional Pro Bono Student Clinic

Each year, four OTD students are selected to be student leads in the WashU School of Medicine (WUSM) Interprofessional Pro Bono Student Clinic. The mission of the clinic includes providing trauma-informed occupational therapy, physical therapy, and/or interim medical interprofessional care tailored to the specific needs of our clients. The clinic provides services to uninsured and underinsured adults in the St. Louis community and connects them with community resources. Students practice their clinical and interprofessional team skills while learning about social and structural challenges faced by individuals in accessing care in the St. Louis healthcare system. The OT student leads participate as part of their Mentored Scholarship experience. Additional OT students are invited to sign up and attend clinic sessions during their time in the program.

Curriculum-based Community Service

Our curriculum provide opportunities for students to interact with specific populations in the community and provide information and services. Below are some examples of how students have interacted with organizations and individuals in the context of coursework, mentored scholarship, doctoral projects, fieldwork and capstones.

  • Allegro Senior Living: Doctoral students have participated in cognitive stimulation therapy sessions as part of their capstone projects at Allegro Senior Living. The program consists of two sessions of themed activities per week for seven weeks and is led by a WashU occupational therapist.
  • Cognitive Stimulation Therapy for Parkinson Disease (PD) Dementia: Under faculty supervision, students facilitated virtual and in-person groups to provide mental and social stimulation for people with PD-related dementia in partnership with the American Parkinson Disease Association Missouri Chapter.
  • Community Building Usability: Students were trained to administer the Community Health Environment Checklists (CHECs) at sites within the St. Louis area. The information will be added to a Google Map to inform people with disabilities about usable sites they can visit in the community.
  • Fall Prevention Programming: Faculty and students play Fall Prevention Bingo or provide fall prevention education sessions to older adults in senior centers, apartment buildings and naturally occurring retirement communities.
  • IMPROVment for Parkinson Disease (PD): Under faculty supervision, students led virtual and in-person groups that involved improvised movement to music as a form of physical activity to enhance cognitive, physical, and emotional health among people with PD in partnership with the American Parkinson Disease Association Missouri Chapter.
  • Lift for Life Academy: Doctoral students completed their second Level II Fieldwork and capstone at Lift for Life Academy, an independent charter school in St. Louis City that serves students in grades K-12. Students worked in a classroom setting with their elementary students to address occupational needs, provide enrichment and improve educational outcomes.
  • Places for People: In the Occupational Therapy in Mental Health course, students use VALT technology to watch their instructors and other occupational therapy practitioners conduct assessments and interventions with individuals with serious mental illness. VALT allows students to view live feeds of occupational therapy sessions occurring in our CELC space while in the classroom with an instructor who can provide real-time instruction.
  • St. Patrick Center: Students can work in the OT clinic at St. Patrick Center, a non-profit organization to combat homelessness in St. Louis City, starting in the summer semester and running a full year. The students design and implement a series of group-based treatment sessions and activities based on client feedback regarding what they want to learn about that semester.
  • Train Your Brain (TYB) Program: TYB is a cognitive skills training program that teaches children and adolescents how to think through daily problems. Doctoral students assist in a summer camp (one-week, half-day sessions) for children ages 9-16 and an after-school program (eight, one-hour sessions throughout the fall semester) led by a WashU occupational therapist.

Partner with Us

If your community organization is interested in learning more about partnering with the CELC, please contact Duana Russell-Thomas, OTD, OTR/L, at [email protected].


Duana Russell-Thomas, OTD, OTR/L
Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy and Medicine
CELC Director

Phone: (314) 286-1625
[email protected]


We are seeking participants for our community-based research studies.