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Faculty Spotlight: Instructor at USF Sarasota-Manatee campus helps launch center to help people with aphasia

Donna Polelle headshot

Donna Polelle, PhD, an instructor at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, is expanding her outreach to people with aphasia through a new community center in Sarasota that she helped create.

A member of USF’s Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) Department, Polelle has volunteered for years at the Suncoast Aphasia Support Group and its offshoot, the Suncoast Aphasia Reading Group, helping individuals with aphasia – an acquired communication disorder often caused by stroke – and introducing CSD student interns to the groups to further their education and clinical training.

Polelle is now assisting at a community center that she helped establish a little more than a year ago. The Aphasia Community Center launched in October 2018 after receiving its designation as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. Recently, the center’s members started meeting at the Willer Fellowship Hall at Concordia Lutheran Church in Sarasota and held a grand opening there on Feb. 11.

Polelle, a founding member of the organization’s Board of Directors, said the center offers a gathering place for people with aphasia and their spouses and loved ones.

“With the Aphasia Community Center, we’re hoping that more people with aphasia come forward to use and improve their language skills and meet others with aphasia,” she said. “This is such an important asset for people with aphasia.”

The center also enables students from USF Sarasota-Manatee’s CSD program to gain clinical experience by helping carry out programs and assist those with aphasia. Currently, two USF Sarasota-Manatee interns, Francesca Angelillo and Rachel Phillips, volunteer at the center, the support group and reading group. A former intern, Kerestyn Kesgeropoulos, a senior at USF Sarasota-Manatee, continues to volunteer at the community center as well.

Often the result of a stroke, aphasia impairs a person’s ability to use and process spoken and written language, but it does not affect intellect. People with aphasia understand what they want to say, but struggle to speak and form sentences. This can cause devastating results, affecting employment, relationships and the ability to communicate even basic needs.

Polelle said she hopes the center increases outreach to people with aphasia while generating funds for programming. The center currently supports nine members and their loved ones and meets the second Tuesday of the month for a half-day of fun social interaction and communication activities to improve spoken language, reading, writing and math skills.

“The Aphasia Community Center provides encouragement and opportunities for communication while participants engage in meaningful activities within a supportive environment,” Polelle said. “Ultimately, the center helps those impacted by aphasia improve their communication skills and overall quality of life. The center’s mission also includes educating the community about aphasia.”

To learn more about the Aphasia Community Center, write to aphasiacommunitycenter@gmail.com.

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