Transformative Scholarship - CHS Professor Awarded QOL Grant for Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury
Dr. Dahlia Castillo, CHS Leavell Faculty Fellow in Community Engagement and director of the Master of Occupational Therapy Program, has received a $100,000 grant from the Craig Neilsen Foundation to develop a sustainable work program model for people living with spinal cord injuries in El Paso.
The Neilsen Foundation mission is to support programs and scientific research that will improve the quality of life for those affected by and living with spinal cord injury. Castillo’s program is designed to do just that, using a campus-based coffee shop model where individuals with spinal cord injuries will receive on-the job training and support as they transition through the program and into employment with community-based partners and restaurant owners interested in the project.
Each participant will transition through four phases – professional evaluation and self-assessment of abilities and interests; on-the-job training in a setting that includes accommodations; training on how to seek employment; and support after employment for both the participant and employer. Participants will also work with a licensed rehabilitation counselor and occupational therapist for free as part of the program.
Castillo’s project partners include the Volar Center for Independent Living, Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), UTEP’s Center for Accommodations and Support Services (CASS), and Sodexo catering services. Volar, TWC and UTEP CASS will help identify community members and UTEP students eligible to participate. The program aims to train up to 20 individuals with spinal cord injury in one year. At the conclusion of the project, the coffee shop will continue to operate, and UTEP students in the occupational therapy and rehabilitation counseling programs working under the direction of licensed faculty in the fields will continue to assist participants. Ultimately, Castillo hopes to expand the program to include individuals with other types of disabilities and assist them as they move through the program and into partner organizations in the community who are interested in hiring them.
“National statistics indicate less than a 10% employment rate for those diagnosed with a spinal injury and it is believed to be lower in El Paso region,” said Castillo. “Our project aims to remove barriers including lack of work experience and training, as well as discrimination by employers. Ultimately, we want them to attain gainful employment which will improve their quality of life and life satisfaction.”
For more information about the Master of Occupational Therapy Program, please visit: https://www.utep.edu/chs/ot/
For more information about the Master of Rehabilitation Counseling Program, please visit: https://www.utep.edu/chs/mrc/