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Service Learning and Volunteerism

South Georgia Farmworker Health Project

During the weekend of October 16-18th seven students from the 2nd year DPT class volunteered their time with the South Georgia Farmworkers Health Project in Bainbridge, Georgia. Jaclyn Banker, Sara Malone, Dani Fennerty, Jessica Farris, Tim Lonergan, Jon Evans and Emily Estes attended this service learning experience along with faculty member Kathleen Geist and alumna Anna Fidler (DPT09).

This project was established in 1996 when Emory physician assistant and medical students first took a caravan of cars down to southern Georgia to provide medical care to the workers who labor in the corn and bell pepper fields. This was a traveling clinic, setting up each day at a new worker camp.

The Emory DPT program has been involved with this project for three years under the direction of Dr. Susan Freed. Physical therapy students work with physical therapists to evaluate and treat low back pain secondary to overuse, knee and shoulder injuries and run a “back class” on proper body mechanics for lifting, throwing and catching the heavy boxes of farm produce. One group of students summarized their experience saying “We met wonderful people, and most importantly made an impact in the farmworkers’ lives; providing them care they were very unlikely to have access to otherwise.”

We hope the program will continue to grow in years to come. Working with an underserved population is an invaluable opportunity for any healthcare provider, and we are humbled that we were able to work with such a brilliant and dedicated group of PAs, MDs, and volunteers.

For more information about this project, or any of our service learning projects, please contact Susan Freed at

DPT Students   DPT Students
Third Year DPT Students Christina Vaughn, Julia Toomey, and Erin Larson participating in the South Georgia Farmworkers Project

Second Year DPT Students (back row): Rachael Dalsing, Emily Estes, Sara Malone, Michael Wang, Valerie Menendez, (front row): Brittany Weeks, and Erin Larson during the South Georgia Farmworkers Project

Guatemala Obras Sociales Project

During the last two years, the Emory DPT program has collaborated with a rehabilitation program in Guatemala to offer an international service learning experience for students who can raise the funds to participate. For those who have made the trip to Guatemala, the experience has enriched their lives and provided an opportunity to serve in a setting where monetary resources are limited but the hard work and devotion of the staff are apparent to all. The purpose of the collaboration between the Emory Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program and La Associación Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro (Obras Sociales) in Antigua, Guatemala is to enhance the capacity of local rehabilitation personnel and to assist the mission of the hospital while providing a meaningful and sustainable international service learning program for Emory students, faculty and alumni. Obras Sociales provides free or very low-cost health care to the people of Guatemala, including: primary care, specialty medical and surgical care, residential care of disabled adults and children, and out-patient rehabilitation services. Five physical therapy staff members who were trained in Guatemala are responsible for the rehabilitation needs of 230 residents, additional post-operative orthopedic patients, and over 1,000 out-patients per year.

The collaboration between Emory’s DPT program and the Rehabilitation Department at Obras Sociales was initiated in 2007 during a visit by Susan Freed of the Emory DPT faculty. The project was fortunate to obtain funding from the Emory Global Health Institute for each of our first two dual degree (DPT/MPH) students to spend six weeks in separate years working toward project objectives. Megan Brock (DPT/MPH, 2010) initiated the program in the summer of 2008 with two primary project goals. The first goal was to evaluate patients designated by the staff and provide training materials in English and Spanish for international volunteers to use when working with the residents. These materials were to include individual task specific activities important to their rehab goals and enjoyable activities to promote fitness and flexibility. Megan’s other goal was to initiate staff training in appropriate low load prolonged stretch programs to reduce musculoskeletal deformities among the resident population. During the summer of 2009, Lori Northcraft (DPT/MPH, 2010) continued the project to reduce deformities among the residents by working with the therapists on progressive splinting, positioning and joint mobilization techniques to reduce deformities. Ann Robertson (MMSc, ’93) provided expertise in the nursery and with splint making in the summer of 2009. Dr. Freed accompanied each of the dual degree students as their faculty mentor for the first two weeks of their projects and provided case based teaching sessions for the staff. In January 2009, seven Emory DPT’09 students (Megan Brock, Anna Fidler, Rebecca Halperin, Meg Jacobs, Lori Northcraft, Amber Vance and Stephanie Wong) spent 12 days in Guatemala with Dr. Freed. Nine of the days were full of service to Obras Sociales where the staff had referred patients to us for evaluation and program development. This group also brought donated materials specifically requested by the rehab staff and provided both equipment and training in group exercise and wheelchair management activities for adult patients with neurologic dysfunction (primarily post CVA) which was new to the facility. At this time, reservations have been made and final plans are in progress for the January 2010 service trip to Obras Sociales by nine members of the DPT class of 2010.

If you would like to make a donation to purchase needed rehabilitation equipment for the residents of Obras Sociales or would perhaps like to participate in our service learning projects, contact Susan Freed at

Guatemala Obras Project Guatemala Obras Project
Guatemala Obras Project Guatemala Obras Project

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