By Tom Cummiskey, Outreach Librarian at the Plymouth Public Library
Just before the COVID shutdown, I was notified by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners of a program opportunity that sounded like it would fit nicely into the Consumer Health programming that I was spearheading at the library. After I spoke with Julia Chevan, the program coordinator at Springfield College Department of Physical Therapy, I requested 20 of the Walk With Ease guidebooks that would be distributed for free to patrons. Students in the physical therapy program at Springfield College would be using the material in 1:1 coaching sessions with patrons as part of the internship hours they needed.
The books arrived while we were furloughed, but when we came back in August I began to promote the program through our social media, the Center for Active Living, and a local news article. The response was surprisingly strong, and by Labor Day I requested eight additional books. Books were picked up by registrants at our curbside pickup area along with a welcome letter explaining how the program would work, and when the Springfield students would be contacting the registrants.
Students began contacting registrants the third week in September and for approximately six weeks, walkers and students began meeting virtually to review the material, learn strengthening and stretching exercises, and to offer walking tips, motivation and suggestions based on each person’s capabilities.
Once the program ended, I began to hear all sorts of glowing comments from the patrons, saying how wonderful and inspiring it was to work with such an enthusiastic group of students. Many reported that they were now able to walk with more confidence and assurance, all benefits of the program.
When I offered participants the opportunity to meet virtually on a monthly basis throughout the winter as a means of continual support, there was great interest. We had our first Zoom meeting for 30 minutes on December 2nd. This further connection provided an adjunct program opportunity without having to do much other than organize the Zoom session, send out the link, and then facilitate the group discussion among the eager participants. We will offer this monthly meeting through April, with the possibility of group activities once the “all clear” is given post-pandemic.
Feedback has all been positive for both the material presented in the book as well as the attentiveness and guidance of the physical therapy students at Springfield College. The Walk With Ease program is a fine example of a collaborative effort between public libraries and higher education institutions. Very little work was needed on our part to ensure participant success and it provided access to expertise and resources that would not have been locally available. If any other libraries are interested in offering this programming, they can contact Dr. Julia Chevan at Springfield College.
Tom Cummiskey, MLS
Plymouth Public Library
Plymouth, MA 02360