Colleen Harchuck always wanted to help. Her heart settled on kids with special needs. The former Pennsylvanian got her undergraduate degree in health sciences and her masters in physical therapy from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

She has been a school-based physical therapist for 20 years, choosing now to live out her dream in our DeSoto County school system.

During my interview with Colleen, I also met Jami Schueneman and Cindy Smith, occupational therapists for DeSoto schools. Colleen explained that: “Physical therapy deals with problems from the waist down; the legs, walking, moving around and balancing, while Jami and Cindy work on problems from the waist up; dressing, handwriting, eating, washing hands, etc.”

The women spend their days traveling between schools helping these children become more independent. Colleen works with about 20 special needs’ children, while Jami and Cindy have nearly 50 under their care. They are constantly encouraging and expecting the children to expand their boundaries. Just getting out of a wheelchair and into a desk on their own, or being able to hold a pencil and print their name, can be huge accomplishments, and one more step to becoming self-reliant.

As the children grow and graduate to a different school, Colleen, Cindy and Jami make sure that the new school has the appropriate equipment and facilities to accommodate them. Chairs must be the right height so the student can put their feet flat on the floor for balance, desks must be able to accommodate the children—some special equipment may follow a student from one school to another.

Jobs are not about pay for people such as Colleen, Cindy and Jami. The lift is about seeing the small accomplishments that mushroom into major improvements in the lives of these beautiful children. “Sometimes it takes a while and we need to be patient,” Colleen said, “but when a child is able to overcome a major challenge, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Colleen in February organized a Special Olympics at the high school stadium for DeSoto County children with special needs. It turned out to be a resounding success, and she promises to make the next event even bigger and better. So plan to get involved when you hear that knock on your door later this year. Colleen, Cindy and Jami are three outstanding people making a difference in our town, one child at a time. Thank you, ladies.

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