Female occupational therapist in a navy polo and khakis kneels on the floor with a brown-haired child and offers him a green ball. Text overlay says occupational therapy volunteer ideas.

5 Occupational Therapy Volunteer Ideas

Gwen Davis-Barrios
Reviewed by Dr. Crystal Young
Mar 25, 2024

Volunteer Occupational Therapy Work

There’s never been a better time to work as an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA). With a positive employment outlook, OTAs have the opportunity to work in a variety of clinical and home settings.

Occupational Therapy (OT) is a great career if you want to make a difference in a person’s everyday life, and volunteer OT opportunities help get your foot in the door. For ways to gain valuable OT experience and boost your resume, here are five OT volunteer ideas to consider.

OT Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteer opportunities, including OT internships or shadowing an OT, gives insight into the variety of OTA environments you could work in. Wherever you do it, OT volunteer work will teach you valuable skills that will propel your career forward.

1. Geriatric Facilities

Geriatric care makes up a large percentage of the OT industry, and most OTAs work with older individuals at some point in their career. Volunteering at a nursing home can give you a head start as an OTA, and many Joyce graduates make meaningful careers in geriatric care.

Skills and Experiences Gained

As an OT volunteer in a geriatric facility, you’ll help patients regain and maintain skills they may have lost due to illness or injury. If patients live in the facility, you’ll spend time assisting them with their daily tasks and tailoring their space to suit their individual needs.

Time Commitment

Nursing homes, resident facilities, and treatment centers each require different time commitments from volunteers. Be prepared to spend a few hours weekly for a few months if you want to complete a geriatric care OT internship, and check with the volunteer coordinator at local care facilities for specific requirements.

Required Qualifications

Most nursing homes and geriatric care facilities provide on-site volunteer training, so you don’t need a degree or prior qualifications.

2. Children’s Hospitals

Pediatrics is another big focus in the OT field. As an OT volunteer in a children’s hospital, you’ll work with children born with a medical condition that results in developmental delays and chronic conditions, as well as children with traumatic injuries. Joyce University’s OTA program will teach you specialized pediatric OT skills to help you succeed in children’s hospitals.

Skills and Experiences Gained

Pediatric OT volunteers help children learn independence-building skills like tying shoes and brushing teeth. OT treatment for children often resembles play, and you’ll need to be creative. This makes children’s hospital OT volunteer work so formative for many aspiring OTAs — creativity is key in OT.

Time Commitment

The volunteer time commitment varies between children’s hospitals, but many require about 100 hours spread out over six months to a year.

Required Qualifications

Most children’s hospitals require OT volunteers to be at least 18 years old and pass a background check and a health clearance screening. You’ll also receive on-site training and orientation.

3. Special Needs Day Programs

Special needs day programs are a safe, structured place for disabled adults to participate in activities and build skills. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer at special needs day programs, and Joyce’s holistic approach to healthcare sciences makes our OTA students a welcome addition to many volunteer teams.

Skills and Experiences Gained

OTA volunteers at special needs day programs will practice a holistic approach to OT. Much of your work here will revolve around developing social skills, work skills, and the tools for independence. Volunteering at special needs day programs will expose you to a wide variety of OT modalities.

Time Commitment

The time commitment for OT volunteers varies between special needs day programs. Make sure you go over any time commitments with the volunteer coordinator.

Required Qualifications

To volunteer as an OTA at a “special needs” day program, you’ll need to pass a background check. Some programs will have additional requirements, so check with each facility.

4. Equine-Assisted Therapy

If you’re an animal whisperer, consider volunteering in equine-assisted OT, also known as hippotherapy. This is a form of animal assisted therapy that uses horses to help patients with physical, developmental, or psychiatric needs.

Skills and Experiences Gained

As an equine-assisted OT volunteer, you’ll work with a wide variety of patients and learn how to incorporate animals into your OTA practice. Equine-assisted therapy requires great communication, so volunteering here will teach you crucial skills for your OTA career.

Time Commitment

Most equine-assisted therapy organizations require their volunteers to make a regular time commitment, even if it’s a small one, like an hour every week.

Required Qualifications

Most equine-assisted OT volunteers must take a short training course before beginning. After that, you can take the reins and help horse therapy patients!

5. OTA Policy Organizations

Leadership training is big at Joyce University. We encourage students with a special interest in leadership roles to volunteer with OTA policy organizations. Rather than working with patients directly, you’ll shadow OT policy-makers in these positions.

Skills and Experiences Gained

Volunteering with OTA policy organizations can prepare you for a future shaping big-picture changes in the OT industry. This behind-the-scenes career path influences the daily experiences of OTAs and patients. The leadership skills you’ll learn here will serve you during your whole OTA career.

Time Commitment

OTA policy organizations have varying time requirements. Reach out to the volunteer coordinators at your local organizations for more information.

Required Qualifications

Most OTA policy organizations give on-site training and don’t require their volunteers to have prior qualifications before jumping in and helping. You will need to pass a background screening.

Why Do Volunteer OT?

Volunteer OT is a great way to:

  • Learn about various OT specialties
  • Boost your resume
  • Find mentors
  • Make connections with potential employers
  • Serve your community

OT Volunteer Programs

Most OTA programs require students to complete OT volunteer hours or spend time in the workforce getting hands-on experience.

Joyce’s OTA program includes 16 weeks of clinical practice fieldwork, during which you’ll work with a diverse group of patients and get a feel for the industry. Any OT volunteer work you do before your fieldwork will get you ahead, helping you decide what you want to specialize in your practice.

FAQs About OT Volunteer Opportunities

How to get OT volunteer hours?

If you’re in an OTA program, your school likely has connections to OTA organizations where you can volunteer. If you know you’re interested in a particular specialty, you can get OT volunteer experience by calling up relevant organizations in your area. Most will have a volunteer program you can join.

Where to volunteer for OT?

Check out geriatric facilities, children’s hospitals, special needs day programs, equine-assisted therapy organizations, and OTA policy organizations for OT volunteer opportunities.

Does OT volunteering count toward observation hours?

Volunteer hours usually count toward observation hours on OT program applications. However, some schools have strict guidelines about what counts, so it’s worth checking with their specific policies.

What does an OT volunteer do?

OTA volunteers can work with therapists to help with stretches and simple therapies. They also clean toys and equipment and fill in where needed to keep things running smoothly.

How to get OTA jobs?

Read more about OTA job opportunities and application tips here.

Volunteer OT is a great way to learn where you want to specialize while preparing for a rewarding career as an OTA. If you’re ready to dive in, check out Joyce’s OTA program today.

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