Recreational therapist leads playtime, but not for kids - Omaha.com
Published Monday, March 25, 2013 at 1:30 am / Updated at 7:46 pm
Recreational therapist leads playtime, but not for kids

COUNCIL BLUFFS — “I pretty much play games,” Michelle Stopak says of her job as a recreational therapist at Immanuel Pathways, 1702 N. 16th St.

But, of course, she does a lot more than that.

The program of all-inclusive care for the elderly now has about 56 people enrolled, although most come only a few days a week, Stopak said.

“Generally, on a given day, we have about 20,” she said.

Stopak came to Immanuel Pathways in July 2011, after working as an activities manager for the company since 2005.

“I plan activities for our participants,” both in the general activity area and the memory unit, she said. “As a recreational therapist, I focus on ‘What is this activity going to do for this person?’ ”

She adapts activities for individuals who may need help with them. She helped a woman who was not participating in games by starting some games that she was familiar with and inviting others to join them.

“Now she’s playing the games where she knows what she’s doing, and she feels included,” Stopak said.

She also teaches nurse assistants to help participants with dementia. “In memory support, that’s more one-on-one,” she said.

Stopak loves the participants.

“I just adore working with them,” she said. “They make me smile — they make my day. If I’m having a rough day, I can go out and just hang out with them for a while. I could not imagine not seeing them.”

Stopak is a lifelong resident of the Omaha metro area and graduated from Millard North High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in recreation and leisure studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“I was in college, and I thought I wanted to be in business,” she said. But a woman who spoke to her sorority about healthy recreation got her thinking.

“I talked to her at length, and the next day I went and changed my major,” she said. “When I took my first recreational therapy class, I knew that was what I wanted to do.

“At the time, I thought I wanted to work with children. Through a series of events, God brought me to Immanuel Pathways, and I walked in the door and met a (participant), and I just fell in love with them.”

Outside of work, Stopak likes to run. She has participated in a half-marathon but usually sticks to 5k and 10k runs.

“I like road races, and ... I really love adventure racing,” she said. “It’s a combination of biking, running, orienting, canoeing — pretty much anything they can throw at you.”

Stopak often enters events with her sister-in-law, who lives next door to her.

“I worked her down,” she said. “She now loves it as much as I do.”

When it’s not race season, Stopak said, she is an “avid reader.” She also enjoys kayaking and being close to nature. She and her husband, Scott, have a cat, Kramer, who they got at an animal shelter.

Get to know


Michelle Stopak

Age: 41

Family: Husband, Scott; cat, Kramer; parents, Charles and Patricia Watkins and William and Barbra Howell.

Job: Recreational therapist at Immanuel Pathways, 1702 N. 16th St., Council Bluffs, since July 2011. Previously, since 2005, activities manager for Lakeside Village and Immanuel Community.

Education: Millard North High School, 1990; bachelor’s degree in recreation and leisure studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, 1996.

Hobbies: Running, reading and kayaking. She has done a half-marathon but usually sticks to 5k and 10k runs. “I really love adventure racing,” she said. “It’s a combination of biking, running, orienting, canoeing — pretty much anything they can throw at you.”

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