‘I learned to stay on my toes!’

“Outreach has always been a big part of my life,” says Taylor Baskin, a member of the inaugural class of Alabama Schweitzer Fellows. “I volunteered a lot growing up, and I took three service-learning classes in college.” The demands of her studies at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, however, seriously hampered this second-year student’s commitment to service―until she learned about ASF.

“When I heard about this Fellowship, it seemed perfect,” says Baskin. “Immersing myself in a population that I can help provides the reminder of why I came to medical school and also motivates me in my studies.”

Baskin is working with children at Glenwood Autism and Behavioral Health Center, teaching an exercise regimen aimed at improving their physical health. Glenwood serves children and adults on the autism spectrum or with severe behavioral problems through an array of health and educational services. While Baskin’s original intention was to work only with children on the autism spectrum, she was surprised to find herself just as drawn to working with the children being treated at Glenwood for behavioral issues.

“This is a group that I did not have any experience with, and I really learned from this group,” says Baskin. “A lot of the boys put on a ‘tough’ act, and others were very welcoming since day one. It was really rewarding when the harder to reach children started to engage with me more. I could tell that I was earning their trust.”

Working with a new population is just one of the ways in which the Fellowship has taught Baskin the importance of being flexible. This lesson was reinforced early on, when time constraints and student needs forced her to alter her original program of daily dance classes during the summer for autism-spectrum students. After administrators advised her that students’ attention wouldn’t hold for that long, Baskin began working with her site mentors to better tailor her project to serve the students.

“The more I met with my site mentors as I was planning, the more I learned about the population that I am working with. Every meeting or phone call, I was revising my plans, which has helped me learn to be flexible. My overall goal of improving fitness has not changed,” says Baskin, “but I really had to get to know the students and learn their capabilities. For example, I learned I needed to schedule multiple activities because the students would quickly lose interest in them.  I learned to stay on my toes and be flexible.”

Baskin’s ability to adapt to the needs of her students has paid off. When she noticed how a nonverbal student who loved music worked harder on the stationary bike during his favorite songs, she made a habit of standing by the CD player, making sure to hit all of his favorites. She helped another non-verbal boy learn to swim, despite his fear of putting his face in the water, by acting as a human flotation device, leading him around the pool as he held onto her and kicked.

Baskin is quick to acknowledge the help she has received from the Glenwood staff in implementing her project. “Everyone is willing to help and teach me,” she says. “From my first day, teachers gave me pointers about each child’s mannerisms. I learned to be more observant especially when it came to the non-verbal children.”

Similarly, she credits ASF―particularly the speakers at the chapter’s monthly meetings―with helping her develop important leadership skills. “One of my favorite speakers talked about tapping into a community’s existing talent―a project should try to find the positives in a community and aim to accentuate these instead of completely changing it,” Baskin recalls. “As an outsider, we may have an idea of what will best help. However, our idea may not coincide with that of the very group we are trying to help. The more people we have supporting a common cause, the more we will achieve.”

Baskin has also enjoyed being surrounded by the community of “like-minded people,” that she has found in her fellow Fellows. “They are motivated, smart, and wonderful leaders,” she says of them. “This is a wonderful group to be associated with.”