Last spring, alumna Kristy Schena ‘93 was recognized as a 2018 Outstanding Alumni, joining the ranks of other ComArtSci graduates who have achieved excellence in the communications field. Schena is the executive director and founder of Kids on the Go, a multidisciplinary summer therapy program for children with special needs ages 3-17. The award acknowledges her passionate service to the community during her 25-year career in speech-language pathology (SLP).
“This is one of the greatest honors I’ve received in my career, it ranks right up there to the day I got married and had my children,” said Schena. “I’m honored to represent Michigan State and the positive things that come out of our university. It was an awesome four days on campus and I met phenomenal people. [I feel] blessed to be a Spartan.”
Where Fun is Therapeutic
Kids on the Go allows children with special needs to experience the simple joys of summer camp through activities such as art therapy, sports, robotics class and performing arts. Schena and her staff also provide speech-language, occupational and physical therapy based on an analysis of kids’ individualized education plans (IEPs) and the end-of-the-year goals set by their teachers and therapists. They continue to address those objectives throughout the summer to ensure kids maintain and advance the progress they’ve achieved during the school year.
“Children with special needs don’t get the same opportunities at camp,” said Schena. “[I wanted] to give parents a financial break from the high cost of private therapy. [A session of] therapy today is $115 for 15 minutes on average. Kids on the Go is where fun is therapeutic.”
Before Kids on the Go, Schena worked as a SLP providing therapy for children and adults. She received frequent phone calls from concerned parents looking for summer therapy programs for their kids and quickly discovered that their options were extremely limited. Most insurance companies wouldn’t cover summer therapy camps and the few camps that existed charged high tuition rates that many families simply couldn’t afford. After one of her children was diagnosed with hypertonia, or low muscle tone, she knew she needed to be the force behind a solution.
Schena founded Kids on the Go in 1999, starting with 13 children ages 3-6. The program expanded its age group offerings a few years later after several parents inquired about what they could do for their kids who had aged out of the program. She has kept the camp free for 20 years through a combination of private and charitable donations as well as money raised from fundraising events.
This summer, Kids on the Go introduced new activities and classes such as legos, career and skill-building, boxing, archery, yoga and martial arts. In the future, Schena is looking to continue to expand the camp’s programming and make it available year-round.
Spartan for Life
Schena received her bachelor’s degree in Audiology and Speech Sciences from the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders and her master’s degree in Communication Disorders from Bowling Green State University.
Schena recalls that her study abroad trip to London was one of her most memorable experiences as an undergraduate. She took classes, attended lectures and had the opportunity to visit hospitals and clinical sites to explore the forefront of the evolving SLP field.
Over the years, Schena has remained true to her MSU roots. She has worked with a number of Spartans, including Anthony Ianni, the first college basketball player diagnosed with autism, and her mentor and former professor, Peter Lapine.
“The quote ‘Spartan for life’ means a lot to me,” said Schena. “When I received my degree from Michigan State, I didn’t understand at the time that this piece of paper would provide me with lifelong friends and opportunities to collaborate with Spartans throughout my career. After spending my weekend at MSU for the alumni awards, it became clear to me that as a Spartan, there’s a bond that’s hard to describe, but it’s shared by all Spartans. We just help each other out.”
By Rianna N. Middleton