HDI's Family Mentorship Program Kicks into High Gear (KY UCEDD/LEND)

October 2, 2015

Human Development Institute (HDI) has led a family mentorship program that matches university students with families including a child or adolescent with a significant disability in order to give the students a chance to interact with these families outside of a clinical or academic setting and learn first-hand from the family's experience. As a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, HDI's family mentorship program prepares students for their future work as professionals and clinicians working with individuals with developmental disabilities.

Under the new leadership of Preservice Training Coordinator Walt Bower, efforts have been focused to expand this program and bring it to as many students as possible. A successful outreach effort took place in the Fall semester of 2014, during which time thirty students in University of Kentucky's Physical Therapy program were matched with mentor families including persons with developmental disabilities. Faculty in the Physical Therapy program agreed to participate, and selected students in an introductory level course required for all students in the Physical Therapy program. Families were recruited through the HDI Consumer Advisory Council and local parent organizations. HDI provided the contact information for thirty families who were willing to share their experiences with students, and the students were the ones to contact and establish the initial meeting with their mentor families.

These thirty students were asked to reflect on their time getting to know and interact with the families, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. One of the students shared, "Overall, this experience is one that I will not forget! I am grateful for the new perspective my mentor family has given me - an understanding and realization of the obstacles that families with autism and other lifelong disorders face... I will use what I have learned as a future physical therapist to make a difference in other's lives through understanding, knowledge, and compassion." All students appreciated the opportunity to be matched with a family, and students reported learning a great deal and gaining valuable experience that they otherwise would not have received solely from their classes. Host families also reported being happy with the program and the opportunity to meet with students and share their experiences with these future professionals. All thirty students completed the mentorship successfully, and each gave a presentation to the class about what they had learned from their mentor families.

The family mentorship program is open to all university students in the state of Kentucky who are interested in being matched with a family. The majority of students that have been matched so far have come from the University of Kentucky as part of a partnership spearheaded by HDI to expand the service. Plans are already in the works to expand family mentorship, not only at UK, but also to other locations as well. A student from Asbury Seminary has been matched with a mentor family, and information was run in the Spina Bifida Association of Kentucky newsletter promoting the program.

The encouraging and positive responses to these promotion and marketing efforts have helped HDI continue to expand to reach as many students and mentor families as possible. Students appreciate the valuable experience in learning from their mentor families, especially as it informs their future work as professionals. Families, too, treasure the opportunity to share their experiences with students outside of a clinical or academic setting, as well as helping them to gain powerful insights about what life is truly like for a person with developmental disabilities.