Chair yoga is a popular activity for participants in therapeutic recreation's virtual placement project. Photo credit: Madalyn Howitt

Tania Silletta, a therapeutic recreation professor at Algonquin, received a Minister’s Award of Excellence for her work in creating an original virtual placement project for students in the program.

“Tania jumped in with both feet on this project,” said Patricia Robson, program coordinator and Silletta’s nominator. “I’m so happy for her. She was dedicated to making it work.”

The announcement was made on Sept. 28 by the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano, according to myAC News.

“The goal of therapeutic recreation is to enable all individuals to achieve quality of life and optimal health,” explained Robson. It uses recreation and leisure activities to improve patients’ cognitive abilities, maintain community connection, and help people feel happy and healthy.

Students in the program are required to complete a 14-week placement before graduating. “Typically students would be placed in long-term care homes, rehabilitation centres, or mental health centres,” said Silletta.

When the lockdown happened in March though, Silletta had to find a new way to help students complete their work experience. This resulted in a highly successful pilot placement project that called on volunteers to register for virtual therapeutic recreation sessions.

“About eighty participants signed on right away, so we had to extend it to a hundred potential participants,” said Silletta.

With social isolation being an increasing concern for many during the pandemic, Silletta noted how the project addressed a need in the community for human interaction.

“Having a routine and setting goals is really important during isolation. It brings comfort,” said Silletta.

Professor Tania Silletta has received a Minister’s Award for her work in creating a virtual placement project for students in the therapeutic recreation program.

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. “For me the program was a life line to my old life. It restored a weekly context, purpose, and provided tasks to work on with support,” said one participant.

It was also a comforting experience for students, who led participants in activities like chair yoga, dance and visual arts.

Natalie Fraser, a graduate of the program, was nervous before starting her virtual placement. “I was worried I would miss physical cues like body language working in front of a screen,” she said, “but I had a lot of fun. I found myself genuinely smiling and really loved the connections with participants.”

Robson and Silletta agree that the success of the project had a positive impact on the program. “I think it shows we’re very innovative and willing to try new things,” said Robson.

“It opened up the minds of students who are used to working a certain way with human connection. Now we know how to work with people in virtual environments,” added Silletta.

When asked how it feels to receive an award for her work, Silletta was modest. “It’s very flattering and exciting, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own.”

Fraser however thinks Silletta is very deserving of the award. “It’s so clear that this is her passion. She gives nothing less than 110 percent.”