Empowering the Community to Serve Its Own

Reprinted from Traditions, Winter 2016-2017
February 17, 2017

Glass works throughout St. Paul and often works out of the back of her car as she meets the needs of the community.


Derham Hall Profile: Teresa Glass '80

A strong proponent of community-based rehabilitation as the most effective way to ensure those who need care receive care, Teresa Glass '80 sees herself as an organizer.  Whether abroad on in the St. Paul Public Schools, her job draws on the need to understand people and the community itself.


As an Occupational Therapist, Teresa Glass ’80 has been in the business of serving her community her whole life. From her unique perspective, however, all communities have within them the capacity to grow strong if the skills and talents of their members are tapped.

Drawing on the inspiration of the Maryknoll Missionaries, who stress community and accompaniment as a foundation for their work, Glass has lived and worked outside the United States, and now here in St. Paul, with the belief that the capacity to serve and the talent within communities makes the most difference.

Community Focus Extends Capacity to Serve

“I realized early on that I needed to keep my focus on community, to figure out what people need and want, and then help create a system that met those needs that was not reliant on just one (professional) person,” explained Glass.

This philosophy developed in parts of the world where she lived and challenged her to understand the people before she started serving them. But it also grew from her personal experience within her family and her St. Paul roots. Her older sister Colleen’s physical and cognitive disabilities challenged her to always take into account the family whose deep knowledge and understanding of the person in need provides the greatest advantage in ongoing care and therapy.

Later, living in impoverished areas of the world that simply did not have the medical or therapeutic resources needed, her respect for the culture and belief in the potential to establish systems within the community to serve these needs proved to be transformational.

Glass’ career took her to the Dominican Republic for two months as a volunteer health professional in a rural village. She also volunteered for two years on a Navajo Reservation in Arizona. In addition, she spent seven years in Bolivia with the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, founding a community-based rehabilitation and special education program for children with disabilities.

Community – Based Rehabilitation In Action

In Bolivia, Glass lived in a jungle community of 50,000, with many lumber yards, fishermen, and Brazil nut factories. With no services for people with disabilities, many wanted Glass to establish a clinic to provide such services. “Even though it would have been the easiest and quickest way to help, I said ‘no,” explained Glass. “I knew we could not reach as many people with a clinic and they needed a more sustainable system to really raise the consciousness of disabilities and how to help.”

She quickly realized that in order to be able to serve the Bolivian people, she first needed to enter into and embrace with love and respect the culture which was very different from her own. “Simple, open, honest relationships with people is everything.”

Glass committed to working with parents, teaching them what they could do at home. She raised consciousness about disabilities by going on the radio and lobbying the government. She established support groups for families and trained locals in rehabilitation and special education. The community-based programs continue today.

“Big things can be done with few monetary resources when using people’s talents within a community,” explained Glass.

Glass was urged by a Bolivian pediatrician to write a book Una Experiencia de Rehabilitacion en la Comunidad (An Experience of Community-based Rehabilitation), published in 2014 by Hermes House Press which is owned and operated by fellow Derham Hall graduate Julie Hermes ’80. The book provides tools and skills useful in the creation of community-based rehabilitation for persons with disabilities in regions of the world where health care and resources are scarce. It has been distributed in many Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America and is currently being translated into English.

Bringing Global Lessons Home

Today, as an occupational therapist for St. Paul Public Schools, Glass’ job is to help students adapt to reach their academic potential despite living with learning disabilities, autism, physical, or cognitive impairments.

“I draw on my global experiences every day (in my work with St. Paul students),” noted Glass. Whether I am working with immigrants or the economically poor, I need to establish relationships with co-workers and students.”

She explains that such a relationship must grow out of an understanding of the student and his or her world in order to be effective.

“What I realize now, whether in a rural village in Boliva or in St. Paul, my job is essentially an organizer,” reflected Glass. “I need to be a team member, build respect and trust, try to understand the whole person and the world they live in – then we can establish common goals.”

“While living with the Navajo, I learned what it felt like to not know the language of the culture in which I lived. I learned to observe, listen, and ask questions. While living in Bolivia, I will never forget how hard it was to be so far from family.” Glass notes this impacts her daily work with students because respecting the culture impacts how you do your job. “Many of the students I work with are immigrants or refugees. I know my experience helps me to have compassion for the students I serve.”

The seeds of this philosophy were planted at Derham Hall, and later influenced her career. The Sisters and their sense of social justice challenged Glass and her classmates to grow up with the expectations that they could make a difference.

“We were a united and spirited class full of kind, talented and independent women, who knew we were cared for. It gave me the confidence to leave family and home and experience new cultures.”

This article and more are featured in the Winter 2016-2017 issue of the CDH Magazine, Traditions


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