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Murza with her kids and the bags she compiled together for the programs

Speech-Language Pathology Programs Receive Support from Local Organizations During Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t slow down programs offered through UNC’s Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program that assists underserved populations in Weld County, thanks to grants and support provided by local community organizations.

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t slow down programs offered through UNC’s Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program that assists underserved populations in Weld County, thanks to grants and support provided by local community organizations.

  • The  Greeley Treasure Chest Program utilizes boxes filled with age-appropriate books and toys to improve children’s communication and language skills. The UNC SLP program sends graduate students to guide parents on how to use the materials in the chests to improve their child’s emergent literacy and language skills. Based on the child’s age, Treasure Chests are specifically created for infant-, toddler- and preschool-age children. Each box contains books and no-battery toys, such as Legos and puppets, to focus on the parent-child interaction. 

Top image: Kim Murza poses with her two children, Sophia and Charlie, and some of the items she used to make the activity bags for Treasure Chest Program and Project L.I.F.E. participants over the summer.

Kids exploring the items in their bags
Above: Children exploring some items from a bag that Kim Murza created for one of the programs.

  • Project Literacy for Immigrant Families Everyday (L.I.F.E.)  is designed to provide evidence-based, literacy and oral-language enrichment to migrant and immigrant preschoolers, and, at the same time, build family literacy and parental self-efficacy to positively impact children's school readiness. Through this community-engaged program, UNC SLP graduate students have the opportunity to learn important family coaching and direct early intervention techniques in the community.

The Scottish Rite Foundation has given numerous grants to the Treasure Chest Program with the goal of “preventing and addressing communication and language disorders thereby enhancing the quality of life for Colorado's children and their families.”

Also, the Buell Foundation partners “with programs and organizations to ensure that there is a quality system in place that allows all children to be valued, healthy, and thriving.” Because of this, the foundation has funded Project L.I.F.E. since 2019.

A new partnership between UNC’s SLP program and the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program, which is a no-cost program that serves qualified low-income, first-time mothers, has also emerged through the pandemic by connecting UNC’s programs to its participants throughout Weld County.

Kim Murza, Ph.D., an associate professor and the graduate coordinator of the SLP program within the Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Sciences at UNC, felt “overwhelmed” by the pandemic. Luckily, these organizations were able to assist Murza with her needs in continuing to serve underserved families with these programs.

Kim Murza“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, how am I going to make these grant programs work? How am I going to fulfill what I promised I was going to do?’ Luckily, the Scottish Rite Foundation and the Buell Foundation were really responsive to the changing situation and encouraged me by saying, ‘Whatever your families need in the spirit of this grant, do it!’,” Murza said. “So, this summer, I made 238 activity bags for 238 migrant families within Weld County, and then another 164 for the Nurse-Family Partnership … my basement was like an Amazon warehouse!”

Nurses helping to deliver Murza's bags she made
Above: Nurses from the NFP program help distribute/organize Murza’s bags for recipients throughout Weld County.

The Scottish Rite Foundation had originally funded $50,000 for the Treasure Chest Program this year; however, after COVID hit in the spring, Murza reached out to them about fulfilling her needs and received an additional $15,000 from them in order to produce the 164 bags. The Buell Foundation also provided $39,000 in funds for Project L.I.F.E.

Murza utilized the Nurse-Family Partnership in getting the bags she made to those underserved families throughout Weld County since meeting face-to-face is on hold due to the pandemic. The nurses who are part of the Nurse-Family Partnership are being equipped to safely get these materials to their participants. She also partnered with the Migrant Education Program to further reach families across Weld County.

A deeper look into the numbers:

  • Total number of bags created over the summer: 402
    • Number of bags created for Nurse-Family Partnership to hand out: 164
    • Number of bags created for the Migrant Education Program to hand out: 238
  • Number of graduate students who have participated in either the Treasure Chest or Project L.I.F.E. programs in 2020: 48
  • Number of children across Weld county who have participated in Project L.I.F.E. or Treasure Chest (including those who received bags over the summer): 443
  • Grant from Scottish Rite Foundation: $50,000, plus an additional $15,000 for the summer activity bags for Treasure Chest
  • Grant from Buell Foundation: $39,000 for Project L.I.F.E.
  • Number of individuals who attended the International Neighborhood event on Aug. 29: 285

Another example of adapting to COVID involves the use of teletherapy services for the Treasure Chest and Project L.I.F.E. programs. On Wednesdays, 30 families join a Zoom session with graduate student clinicians for shared storybook reading, craft activities and parent coaching. Every other week, families who participate in the Treasure Chest Program meet via Zoom with a graduate student clinician for individualized parent-coaching sessions. This has allowed Murza to continue working toward the programs’ goals.

Volunteers at the event
Above: Participants who volunteered and attended the International Neighborhood event.

In late August, UNC’s SLP program also partnered with United Way and took part in the International Neighborhood event in the Delta Park and Union Colony Greeley neighborhoods where many immigrant, migrant and refugee families live. Supplies, such as diapers, face masks and activity bags, were handed out to around a total of 285 individuals who attended the event. Also, each child received two books, a bag of goodies and a craft activity from the UNC SLP program.

“Both of these programs allow our students to practice clinical skills in the community while benefiting our Greeley neighbors,” Murza said. “We are able to reach so many people, and I feel like I'm more connected to the Greeley community than ever before. There are so many great things going on in Greeley in terms of supporting families, and my students are getting to be part of these wonderful opportunities.”

UNC’s SLP graduate program only has 26 spots available per year, so it’s a competitive program. This fall, 350 students applied for those 26 spots. Students express interest in applying to this program because of the ability to get involved in the community and attain real-world experiences to better prepare for their future careers, according to Murza.

Jessica Balli, a second-year graduate student in the UNC SLP program and coordinator for Project L.I.F.E., wrote in an email that being the coordinator for Project L.I.F.E has allowed her the opportunity to expand her “leadership skills” and further her “clinical experiences” in preparing for her future career as a speech-language pathologist.

“Our master's program here at UNC supports students in preparing them for future career placement by providing them with unique off-campus clinical experiences and being able to work with diverse populations,” she wrote. “Project L.I.F.E. is a wonderful asset to our program, and I am very honored to have been the student coordinator for it; I want to thank Dr. Kim Murza, Tina Farrell, Dr. Julie Hanks, Araceli Calderon and all of the student clinicians who make this program such a success!”

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—Written by Katie Corder; all images provided by Kim Murza.

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