Students help Special Olympics Florida transform lives

Karlyn Emile, an alumna of the FIU Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, is currently the director of the Special Olympics Florida Healthy Community program in South Florida.

FIU student intern, Victoria Blanco, at Special Olympics South Florida Healthy Community with two Healthy Community participants.

FIU student intern Victoria Blanco at Special Olympics Florida Healthy Community with two program participants.

Good health is necessary for persons with an intellectual or developmental disability to secure the freedom to work, learn and engage in their families and communities. For this reason, Healthy Community facilitates access for people with intellectual disabilities to health and wellbeing services, education and support, every day.

For the past two years, Emile and her Healthy Community team have hosted Stempel student interns from the departments of Dietetics & Nutrition and Public Health, the School of Social Work as well as FIU students majoring in journalism and physical therapy.

FIU News sat down with Emile this week to find out more about this mutually beneficial arrangement.

1. What are the goals of the collaboration between Special Olympics Florida Healthy Community and FIU?
Some of the goals include creating awareness about the specific needs of this vulnerable population of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, as well as preparing FIU students to be able to comfortably serve them in their respective fields of practice.

We also aim to foster a sense of inclusion for IDD individuals in mainstream health care delivery via future health professionals.

2. Why do you think internship programs like yours are important for FIU students to participate in?
Internship programs, like ours at Special Olympics Florida Healthy Community, give FIU students an opportunity to a function as leaders and to learn how to advocate for underserved individuals.

3. How do you think that both parties benefit from this collaboration?
Research has shown that many health professionals go into their fields ill prepared to deal with individuals with IDD.

FIU student intern, Wendy McQueen, helps Special Olympics Florida Healthy Community program participant.

FIU student intern Wendy McQueen helps Special Olympics Florida Healthy Community program participant.

Our interns gain valuable experience working with individuals with IDD during their rotations. Parenthetically, each school or department has its own requirement for fulfilling practicum hours. But we make sure that each student gains ample experience so that they feel comfortable dealing with this population when they head into their respective fields.

4. Who opened the door to this collaboration between Special Olympics Florida Healthy Community and FIU?
FIU Stempel Public Health professors Melissa Howard and Florence Greer opened that door.

5. What other FIU faculty do you work with in order to make these internships happen?
Besides professors Howard and Greer, there’s quite a list… Other Public Health faculty that help us with the internship program include Elena Bastida, and Rashida Biggs. Our Social Work faculty contact is Jennifer Abeloff, and Dietetics & Nutrition faculty members who participate include Fatma G. Huffman and Tania Rivera. Plus, professor Lisa Roberts of the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences helps us with physical therapy.

6. Personally, what have you learned from this collaboration with FIU?
Being a former student of Public Health, I knew it was essential for students to gain valuable hands-on experience in order to thrive as health practitioners/professionals. Experiential learning like these internships has proved to be very effective.

Watch FIU School of Journalism and Mass Communication student Alisha Cox share the Special Olympics Florida Healthy Community internship experience with FIU students Wendy McQueenVictoria BlancoBethany Huls and Florinda Gali.