Clemson recreational therapy program gives, receives help from Upstate leisure program to adapt during COVID-19 challenges

February 12, 2021

Two programs in need have created a valuable partnership indeed. Pressures brought on by COVID-19 have led to an innovative partnership that is providing a lasting impact for both Clemson University Recreational Therapy program students and an Upstate organization that serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

A picture of a Zoom screen, showing Clemson University interns working both in-person and virtually with Rainbow Gang participants.

Clemson University recreational therapy student interns provided both in-person and virtual therapeutic interventions for Rainbow Gang participants.

Last fall, the Rainbow Gang, a free community leisure and activity-based day program in Anderson County that provides recreation services to adults with intellectual and development disabilities, was in the process of planning to bring back in-person activity options after a fully virtual spring. They quickly realized, however, that they lacked the resources to effectively provide both virtual and in-person programming that could equally address their participants’ needs.

At the same time, three students in the recreational therapy program at Clemson University lost planned internship positions because of the pandemic. The program, which had previously worked with the Rainbow Gang on a study exploring the benefits of yoga for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, approached Program Director Kathy Schofield for help.

“We received a call from the recreational therapy program’s internship coordinator offering internship support, including bringing a Ph.D. student to our facility to supervise them,” Schofield said. “This is just what we needed to build small group programming that could serve both our in-person participants and those who needed to continue to stay home, so no one would be without activity options.”

The result was an internship program called Tiger Wellness, with two undergraduate student interns supporting programming offered both in-person and online, and a third intern working virtually from Texas. The students were able to provide recreational therapy interventions two to three times a day, with activities focused on enhancing the group’s social, mental and physical well-being.

The recreational therapy program worked closely with their accrediting agency, the Commission on the Accreditation of Recreational Therapy Education and their certifying body, the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification, to ensure that accreditation and certification guidelines were followed and met, including providing an internship supervisor.

A screenshot of an art class on Zoom.

The Rainbow Gang is now working to expand their virtual program to reach other medically vulnerable participants in the community who may benefit from their programming.

Although the Rainbow Gang already had a certified recreational therapist working on-site, she didn’t yet have the one year of experience needed at her current job to supervise interns on her own. Faculty member Marieke Van Puymbroeck Chancellor took on that role, with Ph.D. student Kaitlin Mueller acting as her assistant and providing mentorship support to staff at the Rainbow Gang’s physical location.

Darby Hinson, the Rainbow Gang’s recreational therapist, said the mentorship provided by Clemson faculty and graduate students proved to be a unique and invaluable byproduct of the partnership.

“Having the advice of a person who’s supervised interns before helped prepare me for hosting my own,” Hinson said. “The Tiger Wellness program started right when I was eligible to start my own internship program, so it was helpful to have someone model what an internship program could look like.”

The program has three new interns this spring, two of which are from Clemson. They are also working to expand their virtual program to reach other medically vulnerable participants in the community who are not able to visit the center or who do not qualify for the day program.

Van Puymbroeck said that she is proud of how the team worked together to create a meaningful and innovative experience for the student interns.

“Together, we were able to turn the challenges we were facing into an incredible learning opportunity for our students,” said Van Puymbroeck. “I’m also so proud of our students who were able to be flexible and to try new and creative approaches to patient care, which is beyond what they’ve learned in the classroom.”


The Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management is part of the University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences (CBSHS). Established in July 2016, CBSHS is a 21st-century, land-grant college that combines work in seven disciplines – communication; nursing; parks, recreation and tourism management; political science; psychology; public health sciences; sociology, anthropology and criminal justice – to further its mission of “building people and communities” in South Carolina and beyond.