Faculty Specialist Makes Volunteering a 'Part of Her Life' (Web Exclusive)
Julie Ann Nastasi, O.T.D. ’00
Faculty Specialist in the Department of Occupational Therapy/Physical Therapy
As a regular volunteer with the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, as well as co-founder of the University’s Prayer Shawl Ministry, Julie Ann Nastasi, O.T.D. ’00 explains it was her undergraduate education at Scranton that fostered her interest in community service. “The University gives you the mindset that it’s important to do service,” she says. “It becomes so engrained that you don’t even think about it anymore. It becomes a part of your life; it’s who you are.”
When Dr. Nastasi returned to the Commons as a faculty member in 2011, she and Marlene Morgan, Ed.D., agreed the campus needed a prayer shawl ministry. They believed the idea of knitting is basically grounded in occupational therapy, which helps people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities.
With the blessing of the Panuska College of Professional Studies, the professors teamed with the Center for Service and Social Justice for the ministry, bringing together faculty, staff and students from all majors and disciplines. In their first year, the ministry welcomed 42 students, teaching many to knit for the first time. By the end of the year, 42 shawls were completed and later distributed to a hospice facility in Dunmore.
“The idea behind the shawls is to give comfort to people who are ill or sick, or to give comfort to someone who has recently had a death in their family,” Dr. Nastasi explains. “It let’s them know that someone cares about them.”
The University’s knitting circle has expanded this academic year with a group of sophomores instructing freshmen on Thursday nights. Dr. Morgan and Dr. Nastasi continue to knit two days a week and are available to other students at set times.
“It is great to see how we have impacted the students as well as the University,” says Dr. Nastasi, who enjoys getting to know students outside the confines of a classroom. “We have brought students together, and they have taken leadership roles. Look at the impact of all these knitters – you teach one person to do something and it just expands.”
In addition to her work in the prayer shawl ministry, Dr. Nastasi volunteers twice a week – Tuesday and Fridays – with the craft group at the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind. With a specialty certification in low vision, it is an opportunity for Dr. Nastasi to learn and educate herself, but it’s become far more than that. She explains, “I’m not a college professor or a volunteer to them, I’m just Julie.”
Dr. Nastasi partners with another volunteer to create baking and crafts-based activities that “bring in all the senses.” The clients have varying degrees of vision loss, including total blindness, so activities are tailored accordingly. These tasks range fr baking and decorating Christmas cookies to creating flags for the Fourth of July. Plus, beadwork and jewelry making are always popular choices.
Dr. Nastasi realized the group accepted her once they started joking around and making fun of her as if she was anyone else. “I have a lot of food allergies and they think I’m worse off than they are because I can’t eat half the food we often make,” she laughs. That receptiveness has been extended to students who have volunteered at the center as well.
“It’s important for the students to see how active you can be, and not just sit back and let life go by,” Dr. Nastasi says. “They need to see that you can make a difference.”