I feel as though I could write a novel about the Little Workers PT clinic. On its face, the clinic work is simple and straight-forward: physical therapy for those who need it most. Yet, its dimensions extend far beyond this very basic description.
The Little Workers PT Clinic is the only fully pro-bono physical therapy clinic in the DC area.
For people without medical insurance, the clinic may be their only hope for healing and recovery from injury, trauma or chronic pain.
This is why patients like Blanca drive from Fairfax, VA, to receive treatment at the clinic. Her daughter Martha drives her to appointments twice a month.
Initially, she was referred to another clinic, but Martha says she could not afford the cost. Then, she learned about the Little Workers clinic.
“Here, it’s for free," she says, "and I am able to come and bring my mom and get her the help she needs."
Since coming to the clinic in February, Blanca has made significant progress. "When my mother first came in, she couldn't move her arm," says Martha. "It was stuck like this. Now, she is so much better, and she can move her arm again."
Martha credits the physical therapy for this improvement, and says without the clinic this would not have been possible.
"That’s why it’s just so nice here," says physical therapist Yvette Francis, "because anyone can come. No one has to pay. Everyone can get the same quality of professional services. We are all experienced therapists, all licensed and credentialed, and our hearts are in it."
Volunteers like Yvette, Yvonne and Terri work full-time jobs in addition to their work at the clinic, but they give up their Saturdays to serve patients at the clinic, in part because they believe in the work, but also because they enjoy being a part of the community.
"Just to be able to give back, it touches me deeply," says Yvette. "We are all supposed to help the poor and the needy and to be there for people. By coming here, it gives me so much opportunity to do that, and it’s such a wonderful, loving team to be a part of too."
The giving is a two-way street. Clinic co-founders Sister Dede and Alexa recall a patient who was always bringing them gifts. "She always showed up with something." And patients like Juana and Martha deliver a bright smile and large dose of courage and strength. Alexa even notes that patients offered to hold her babies when they accompanied her to the clinic so she could treat other patients. In truth, the clinic is a great equalizer.
"The people who walk through our doors are in pain physically and emotionally and have suffered life changing functional limitations without the means to address those needs," says Alexa. "But when a patient shares their story with me, I recognize the vulnerability in both of us in that moment... For the patient, the vulnerability may be: will you help me? For me, the vulnerability is: I will do my best and give it all I've got and if I can’t help, I will find someone who can!"
In fact, that's exactly what Alexa did when a group of Liberian refugees arrived at the clinic. They were athletes who came to the U.S. to play soccer, but the opportunity fell through. They were all amputees and victims of war. When Alexa saw their ill-fitting prosthetics, she knew they needed more help than she could offer, so with the help of Sister Dede, they located a prosthetist who agreed to provide care for the refugees free of charge.
The stories go on and on – bodies healed, hearts mended, patients empowered, hope restored. This is what happens when a clinic becomes more than a medical facility, when a convent becomes more than a home for sisters and when a diverse group of volunteers come together with a passion to serve.