Brenau physical therapy students Savina Patheja, left, and Bailey Metcalf treat a farmworker in Moultrie, Georgia. (Laura Cantu for Brenau University)

Brenau physical therapy and psychology students treat farmworkers and their families in Georgia

Jun 30, 2021
Kathryne Davis
Brenau psychology students with professor Cindy Grapenthin. (Photo submitted by Grapenthin)

This June, faculty and students in Brenau University’s Ivester College of Health Sciences traveled to a farming community near Moultrie, Georgia, to provide vital health care to workers and their children.

This marked the third time Brenau’s Department of Physical Therapy has participated in the Farmworker Family Health Program, having previously visited in 2018 and 2019. This year, they were also joined for the first time by students and faculty from Brenau’s Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology and Adolescent Counseling.

“Since this was our first year, we were learning about what needed to be done,” said Cindy Grapenthin, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Brenau Center for Counseling & Psychological Services on the Norcross campus.

“We were able to work mostly with the children and provide informal screenings, identify children who may need more counseling or that might need formal assessments due to some learning deficits. We provided group activities for the children and worked on self-esteem, cooperation and social skills. The students benefited greatly from the experience, and we look forward to returning next year.”

The Farmworker Family Health Program is an interprofessional and cultural immersion service-learning experience founded by Dr. Judy Wold during her time at Georgia State University and later Emory University. Other universities in Georgia with programs in nursing and dentistry were involved as well.

“It’s a wonderful interdisciplinary experience,” said Bob Cantu, assistant professor of physical therapy at Brenau, on working with other universities and students in other fields. “At the night camps, we have nurses doing the initial intake, and nurse practitioners doing evaluations with our students. They were always discussing and collaborating on different ways to evaluate and treat patients.”

During the day, third-year Brenau PT students went to local elementary schools to assess gross and fine motor skills of the children of the farmworkers. Around 100 children were evaluated this year.

“If we see a child who is falling below average, we can refer them to more services, like the local health clinic,” said Tammy Buck, assistant professor of physical therapy at Brenau. “By doing that, hopefully the children can get those needs met and not have as many delays.”

In the evening, after the farmworkers have completed work for the day, students evaluated and subsequently treated them for various musculoskeletal impairments or injuries, which can happen after working long hours in the fields.

“I wanted to go to Moultrie to give back to the local farmers,” said Brenau PT student Cayley Gunter from Johnsville, South Carolina, one of the 11 participating physical therapy students, which was a smaller group than usual due to COVID precautions. “I come from an area where farming is a way of life for some people, and I have seen some of the hardships that come with being a farmer. I wanted to be able to give back to them the same way they give to us.”

Brenau third-year physical therapy students. (Laura Cantu for Brenau University).

The Moultrie service trip provided learning experiences for those involved that went beyond treating the physical ailments of the farmworkers. Since the farmworkers primarily spoke Spanish while the PT students spoke English, the language barrier provided a challenge to several students.

“Out of the more than 200 patients we saw, only a few of the adults spoke English,” said Brenau physical therapy student Kyle Keepers from Roswell, Georgia. “Learning how to take a subjective history or explain a treatment to each patient in another language was certainly a difficult task. The translators were there to help us, but even communicating to the patient through them added another layer of much-needed comprehension that was difficult at times.”

Like many of her Brenau PT classmates, Dominique Richard was able to pick up on some Spanish through the interpreters and the farmworkers. The Zachary, Louisiana, native  welcomed the experience in taking care of people with different backgrounds.

“I was able to interact with a farmworker who was in the process of learning English,” she said. “During his treatment session, we were able to communicate about each other’s backgrounds and families. Being able to hear the instant effect that my classmates and I had on the farmworker’s aches and pains was one of the best things about the trip. Simply taking our time to listen to the farmers about their concerns and doing our best to provide a service made their day as well as ours.”

Cantu said Brenau will continue to participate in the yearly service trip to Moultrie after the positive feedback and experiences from students and people involved with the program. There are plans to have other disciplines from Brenau join as well. Not only did psychology participate in the program for the first time, but Cantu’s wife, Laura, an assistant professor of education at Brenau, went to see how the College of Education can be involved in screening and assessing students to assist the county in providing needed educational services for students in subsequent school years.

“The members of the leadership team at Emory who coordinate the Farmworker Family Health Program have been very impressed with Brenau’s level of interest in the program,” Bob Cantu said. “The Emory leadership expressed a strong interest in Brenau’s continued involvement in the program, and they are open to adding other needed services that Brenau can provide.”