The speech-language therapy Maelyn Kaufman receives at the no-cost St. Ambrose RiteCare Clinic has impacted the four-year-old in ways she may never realize.
Maelyn was born deaf and received cochlear implants as an infant. The implants provide her with a sense of sound, but for the implants to be fully successful, Maelyn's brain had to learn how to interpret sounds.
Her mother, Jillyn Kaufman, said private insurance limited the length and number of speech and language therapy sessions, so when Maelyn began preschool at the age of three, she could say some words but for the most part, her voice was mumbled.
Today, after almost a year of twice-a-week, 50-minute sessions at RiteCare Clinic, Maelyn speaks in sentences.
"She's become more secure and confident. She's interacted more with the family in the last year, participating and spending more time with her two younger brothers at home," Kaufman said.
"Speech-language therapy not only affect how clients interact with family and friends, but in the community, too. My hope for Maelyn as she gets older, because she will have a voice, is that she will be seen and heard, and have more connections because of this program," she added.
Services provided at the RiteCare Clinic by St. Ambrose University Master of Speech-Language Pathology (MSLP) students and faculty have helped hundreds of children like Maelyn adapt and thrive in the past 10 years.
The clinic also provides no-cost services to adults with communication disorders, which may be caused by degenerative diseases, a brain injury or stroke.
"A lot of clients are limited by insurance to a certain number of speech and language therapy sessions each year, and it is not enough," said MSLP Program Director Elisa Huff, PhD, CCC-SLP. "Through the RiteCare Clinic, they continue to receive services they otherwise wouldn't."
The university launched the MSLP program in 2009, and since then 235 graduate students have provided therapy to more than 550 children and adults who could not afford or were ineligible to receive services for a communication disorder.
In the past 18 months alone, MSLP students provided 2,706 hours of therapy, and two-thirds of those hours were working one-on-one with children.
To celebrate the program's 10th anniversary it partnered with the Davenport Valley of the Scottish Rite and recently held a "Death by Champaign and Chocolate" fundraiser to benefit the clinic.
SAU RiteCare is the only no-cost clinic in Iowa where children and adults with communication disorders can receive speech-language pathology assessment and/or intervention services. The services remain free, in part, due to generous and consistent financial support from the Iowa Scottish Rite Masonic Foundation and the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction, USA.
In the past 10 years, the Foundation and Council have awarded the clinic $387,600 in grants. Huff said the funds allow the university to hire clinical supervisors and operate the clinic year-round.
The Foundation also supports the education of St. Ambrose MSLP students. In 2014, it established a $3,500 annual scholarship, which it has since increased to $5,000.
Larry Johnsen, Master of Kadosh for the Davenport Valley of the Scottish Rite, said Rite Care is the philanthropic focus of the fraternal organization.
"RiteCare clinics provide speech-language pathology assistance that is free to those who qualify and can't afford that type of service themselves," he said. "We try to be very generous with RiteCare, not only in this community but throughout the U.S. In its entirety, the Masonic Scottish Rite supports RiteCare," Johnsen added.
When the MSLP program launched in 2009, the clinical experience focused on providing services within the community, on-site at Quad City agencies and organizations, an idea Huff said was radical at the time.
"We continue to provide services in all areas of the community, including at the Friendly House, Hope at the Brick House, and at our in-house clinic. At St. Ambrose, it is very much a practice of using your skills to enrich the lives of others. This sets us apart for many SLP programs in the U.S.," she said.
The opportunity to serve others attracts graduate students who want to empower individuals and strengthen communities. "Our students have perseverance, a great work ethic, and the drive to be the best speech-language pathologist they can be," Huff said. "They complete 60 hours of direct client contact the first year and follow it up with two internships the second year of the program."
MSLP faculty are committed to helping students gain the skills and confidence to step into the world and make a difference. "Our faculty, first and foremost, are speech-language pathologists who happen to be working in academia. They did not go into the field for that reason and they remain clinicians at heart," Huff said.
"Speech-language therapy not only affects how clients interact with family and friends, but in the community, too. My hope for Maelyn as she gets older, because she will have a voice, is that she will be seen and heard and have more connections because of this program."
Jillyn Kaufman, Eldridge, Iowa
St. Ambrose offers all of the prerequisites undergraduates need to enter the MSLP program and is in process of formalizing a minor in Communication Sciences and Disorders. "It is a pathway to our graduate SLP program," Huff said, adding students can begin taking prerequisite courses starting their junior year.
Kaufman appreciates the drive and dedication of St. Ambrose students and faculty, and the level of care they have provided to her daughter.
"The graduate students have done a great job of tracking Maelyn's progress and working toward specific goals. They are thorough, always report back to us and give us things to do at home. Maelyn talks a lot more now and you can understand what she is saying. This is still a critical learning period for her, but she can speak in sentences," Kaufman said.
"I believe, 100 percent, that Maelyn would not be where she is now if it was not for the RiteCare Clinic. As an individual with a voice, she can connect with her family and connect with the community," Kaufman said. "Maelyn has a greater sense of confidence, and that is a huge foundational piece she needs to grow."