Pictured Left: The Arc of Chester County Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, Kera Swift-Josey and participant Liliana Manning.
--An award-winning occupational therapy assistant and successful fundraiser for The Arc of Chester County, Kera Swift-Josey remains dedicated to the West Chester-based nonprofit and its preschool children despite the challenges of the pandemic and while working full-time as an instructor at Jefferson University.
The Arc of Chester County is dedicated to enhancing the dignity and welfare of all people with developmental, intellectual, autism, and other disabilities. They provide quality, community-based services beginning at birth and extend through entire lifetimes; their vision is a community of inclusion that embraces and values all people, equally.
For 16 years, Swift-Josey has been an integral part of that mission.
After graduating from Lehigh Carbon Community College as an Occupational Therapy Assistant, Swift -Josey was working in early intervention in Easton when she read a job posting for The Arc of Chester County.
“I had never heard of The Arc or West Chester,” she said, “but after visiting and being hired, I immediately fell in love with the place and the area.”
That was 16 years ago, and in that time, she has changed many lives by providing occupational therapy for children from birth to three years old, and for preschoolers up to six years old.
For many, “occupational therapy” is a term for teaching or restoring the skills needed for older individuals to enter or remain in the workforce, rather than an integral step in some children’s development.
“A lot of times, people hear ‘occupation’ and think it involves a job,” said Swift-Josey, “but we tell people that everything we do is an occupation. Getting dressed in the morning, playing, sleeping, getting an education – all those things are occupations that we do every day versus just going to work. It’s one of those things that not everyone realizes.”
With the title of Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, along with her role as Program Coordinator for Children’s Early Learning Services at The Arc, Swift-Josey helps children focus on being able to independently engage in their daily routines, like playing and feeding and dressing themselves, while also helping with their self-regulation, fine motor, and visual motor skills.
“I go into the classroom at The Arc and collaborate with the teacher or staff, then work with the children on their various occupational goals,” she said. “I see each child for about 30 minutes, and typically, I have a ‘grasping’ group in the afternoon that works on hand strengthening, fine motor, and scissor skills.”
Two years ago, Swift-Josey’s status changed to part-time at The Arc, after being named a full-time instructor in Jefferson University’s Occupational Therapy Assistant Program.
“Teaching at Jefferson was a great opportunity, but I’m still working at The Arc because I could never leave it,” she said. “Every day, there is a joy. The staff I work with are like my family, and the children I work with are my passion. Being able to see their smiles, to see them progress on their skills, to see them engage with others and their families, and being able to hear their first words or to see them walk for the first time – all those things have been so empowering to me and so rewarding for me in what I do.”
Her dedication to these children has reaped another reward, as Swift-Josey was recently honored by the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association with its 2020 Occupational Therapy Award of Recognition. The award recognizes an occupational therapy assistant whose knowledge and expertise have made a significant contribution to the profession.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Swift-Josey works virtually at The Arc twice a week.
“With COVID and online teleservices, I’m working with not only the child but the parents now, too,” she said. “I love that piece of it. But it’s definitely challenging to get the children to engage with the computer or have them sit still to engage in sessions, so I really have to be creative to come up with strategies for that.”
Despite her full-time responsibilities at Jefferson, and the work and preparation for her twice-weekly online sessions with children at The Arc, Swift-Josey still had time to win the peer-to-peer fundraiser team award for The Arc Virtual Walk/Run for raising more than $3,000.
“I created a team that we call ‘Against All Odds,’ which consists of teachers, therapists, and our family and friends,” she said. “Any time we can promote The Arc, it helps.”
Because of how successful she has been in furthering the goals of The Arc for the past 16 years, and how rewarding and meaningful that work has been in her own life, it’s not surprising that Swift-Josey will continue her connection with the organization and its clients as long as she can.
“In an inclusive environment, we work with some children who are medically fragile, and to me, they might have these limitations, but I see endless possibilities and not the limitations,” she said. “They are the happiest children ever, and their smiles just light up the world. It’s just so enlightening to see, and I absolutely love it.”