CHAMPs > CHAMP in Action

U Mass Amherst Communications Disorders Department


I have been a speech-language pathologist (SLP) in clinical practice for 29 years, and I joined the Communication Disorders Department at University of Massachusetts Amherst as a Clinical Assistant Professor and as the Clinic Director in the on-campus speech and hearing clinic.  In my role working with graduate SLP students, I strive to not only teach them how be the best that they can be in the therapy room, I also try to teach and model that it is vitally important to get to know the whole person, not just their disorder.  This is so true especially for Parkinson’s disease (PD), which has such a profound effect on patients’ lives, and the lives of their families.  It is important that the students know about all aspects of PD; not just how the disease affects a patient’s communication, cognitive, and swallowing functions, but how all aspects of the disease impact the patient’s life every day.  I take my students to area APDA support groups, and run a PD Communication and Swallowing Wellness group every year here at UMass.  Forming our Unity Walk team felt like a natural extension in this process of educating the students.  It taught my students about community involvement and going that extra mile in community education and advocacy; something that I so deeply value in my own clinical practice.  When we as therapists embrace all facets of evidence-based treatment, education, and advocacy, I believe we ensure superior outcomes for our patients that can truly make a difference in the quality of their lives.  And we therapists are enriched and educated in the process as well.

I am so encouraged by working with my graduate students—their energy, enthusiasm, and true commitment to making a difference for their patients is very inspiring to me.  The grad students who accompanied me to the Unity Walk this year got up at 3:30 in the morning to get the train from Massachusetts to arrive on time for the Unity Walk!  They all funded their own trips, and worked tirelessly at various fundraising events on and off campus.  I am so proud of all of them and feel privileged to work with them.

We tried to involve the PD community and our university in our area with our fundraising activities.  We had donations of a quilt and beautiful photographs from members of a local Parkinson’s support group who wanted to help with our efforts.  We presented to local support groups, and had fundraising activities at restaurants in our community.  We started a Facebook group for our team, and definitely got the majority of our donations from friends and family members.  We all posted on our personal Facebook pages, and directed donations to our team’s donation page on the PUW website.  The beauty of working with young graduate students is they are very comfortable with technology and had no trouble making the most of Twitter and Facebook!  We also had wonderful support from our school and university community - UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences helped us get the word out on Twitter, online, and in area newspapers as well.

Our team initially set a fundraising goal of $2000 and were so excited that we exceeded our goal, raising over $2700!


Lisa Sommers
Team Captain, U Mass Amherst Communications Disorders Department