Residential Clinician Zoe Ayinbora on How Pandemic-Inspired Nature Walks Help Individuals Gain Confidence and Comradery  

Zoe Ayinbora works as a residential clinician in ServiceNet’s Developmental and Brain Injury Services (DBIS) program, primarily in Pittsfield and the Franklin/ Hampshire area. In her role, Zoe works to support the individuals living in various residential programs through staff training, personalizing care and advocating for residents, and building a rapport that allows her to best assist residents with their clinical needs.  

While Zoe has been in this role for the past three years, she began her career at ServiceNet 10 years ago. After serving in the Navy and the Peace Corps, Zoe returned to Pittsfield and began working as a DBIS residential home program director. While a program director, Zoe completed her master’s degree in social work from Springfield College. When an opening for a clinician serving the same population she worked with as program director became available, Zoe was excited to move into that position.  

With her background as a program director, Zoe has a unique insight into the ins and outs of residential programs and how to build creative solutions that the program can also realistically support. And a lesson she held onto from her time at Springfield College proved to be one such strategic initiative.  

While a graduate student at Springfield College, Zoe learned about using nature as a platform for both therapy and team building. These ideas resonated with Zoe, and when COVID hit, she finally had an opportunity to do something impactful with them.  

“We’d all been sheltered so much for those two years, and residents weren’t getting out as much,” Zoe said. “We also saw many ‘rocking-the-boat’ behaviors spiked among the residents at this time. These individuals had been stuck in the home so much because of safety protocols, so the idea of supporting them in the house wasn’t something they wanted.”  

To help address this issue, Zoe recalled the ideas around nature as a platform for therapy. Instead of supporting them in the residence, she started taking individuals out to scenic locations as part of their time together.  

“We would sit outside on a picnic bench or drive to a spot where there’s a beautiful view, and you could see and feel the change, because nature brings its own therapy,” Zoe said. “Just being outside of the residence in a different, open capacity brought a lot of natural banter and conversation that made a difference in our time together.”  

After Zoe’s initial success with taking residents individually out for time in nature, she also began to plan group walks. DBIS staff member Kenneth Boullt helps Zoe with transportation, and they bring 4-6 residents out for recurring monthly nature walks. The group explores waterfalls, scenic views, and historical trails, with each trip designed to accommodate the physical needs of the residents. The core group of explorers has also become close and recently organized a barbeque celebration together.  

“These outdoor excursions are so valuable because each time the participants go out, they build up moments of confidence and camaraderie,” Zoe said. “And the idea of the nature walks is very doable. It doesn’t have to be a clinician leading an initiative like this. A program director or staff member can organize a walk. The beauty of it is how it’s a small thing with such a big result.” 

ServiceNet participants and staff on a nature walk

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