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Therapeutic Recreation Therapist

Elissa Giammanco is a certified therapeutic recreation therapist at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital.
Elissa Giammanco is a certified therapeutic recreation therapist at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital.(Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

Elissa Giammanco of Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital has been working as a therapeutic recreation therapist for a year and a half.

What does your job entail?

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As a recreation therapist in a long-term care facility, I focus on increasing the residents' quality of life. I focus on their past, current and future recreation interests.

I plan a monthly calendar with programs designed for the different abilities and pastimes of individuals. Some examples include organizing exercise groups where they work out to their favorite music — whether it's Motown or the Andrews Sisters — our gardening club, crossword puzzles, spiritual study groups, community outings and baking everything from cakes and cookies to even pizza bagels. These activities make residents happy and help them with their social, cognitive and physical skills.

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What kind of schooling or training did you go through?

I completed my bachelor's degree at Slippery Rock University, which is located in Pennsylvania. I majored in therapeutic recreation and minored in gerontology. As part of my schooling, I completed a 120-hour practicum and a 14-week internship. I then passed the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification exam.

What inspired you to this career?

Growing up I was always close with my grandparents and enjoyed spending time with them. When I was in college, my grandmother developed dementia, and she used to call me many times a day, confused. I always felt patience with her no matter how many times she would call me. It was spending time with her and my experience working at a hospital as a medical secretary that I realized I wanted a career helping people. I had originally gone to school for dance, but when I changed my path, I knew I needed a job that made people smile. I did some research, found therapeutic recreation and fell in love with it.

What do you like best about your job?

I love working with my residents. I love really getting to know who they are and what they like to do! It is truly rewarding to see them participating in an activity that they enjoy.

What are the challenges?

It can be challenging if a resident is not verbal and doesn't have any family to fill in the gaps of what they like to do. When this happens, I figure things out through trial and error.

Another challenge is constantly working on the promotion and education about recreation therapy. Most people do not realize the amount of schooling or hard work that goes into what we do.

But when a resident who I see every day, really get to know, and think of as a family member passes away, that's the most challenging thing.

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