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Mental Health SIG: Blue Sky Cafe' : Serving up Fun Opportunities for Social Engagement in a Safe and Welcoming Environment
Wednesday, June 12, 2019, 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM CDT
Category: SIGS


5:30 – 6:00  Introductory remarks/ overview of Blue Sky Café history and foundation in best practice for mental health and trauma informed care

6:00-6:30  Experiential learning through engagement in Blue Sky  Café preparation and participation

6:30-7:00  Questions and comments, application to various areas of practice

Event Description: 

Please join us for coffee and treats*!  The Blue Sky Café, initially created and led by Peg Garding, OTR, for Regions’ inpatients on NE4 (the mental health ICU) has become a mainstay of NE4 programming.  Once a week, patients, nurses, psychiatrists, mental health associates, and occupational therapists come together to share food, laughter, and hot drinks… and the changes we observe in our patients are breathtaking.  How did the Blue Sky Cafe begin, what makes this beautifully occupation-based intervention work so well, and how might you implement a version of the Blue Sky Café in your practice setting… these are questions we will explore together, while sharing a cup of coffee (and maybe a brownie).  (*Vegan and gluten free options will be available!) 

Speakers Bio's: 

Nicole Arnhold, OTR/L, RYT,  is a 2011 St. Kate’s MAOT graduate. She enjoys her involvement  in working with individuals who have often times experienced trauma and now find themselves in intense settings such as; MN Security Hospital in Saint Peter, Regions Hospital Mental Health ICU, MN Juvenile Correctional Facility in Red Wing, and most currently Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health Services in Willmar. It is through these experiences she has come to witness that individuals have an innate desire to feel safe, and from that safety grows connection to others and onto living life more fully. Nicole has extended her training in various areas including SomaYoga, Somatic Experiencing, QiGong, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Emotional Freedom Technique. Nicole graciously worked with Peg Garding for 3 years and was steeped in Peg’s masterful ways of connecting with resistive and high energy individuals, Blue Sky Café being one of those highly skilled interventions. 

Megan Flood, OTR/L, received her MAOT from St. Kate’s in 2016, and is now part of the remarkable Mental Health Occupational Therapy department at Regions Hospital.  Prior to becoming an occupational therapist, she danced professionally for ten years, taught dance at Gustavus Adolphus College, and worked with Regions’ Integrative Therapies department as a massage therapist and Reiki practitioner.  She is studying Somatic Experiencing, and loves how much movement, improvisation, and the willingness to slow down and get curious (all skills she honed as a dancer and choreographer) inform her current work. 

Rachael Munkeby graduated from St. Kate’s MAOT program in 2015.  She was lucky enough to land her first OT job with the inpatient mental health occupational therapy team at Regions Hospital.  It was here she developed a passion for working with individuals with severe and persistent mental illness.  She is currently spearheading the development of a new occupational therapy program at a residential treatment facility called Afton Place.  Rachael values playfulness, curiosity, flexibility, and kindness. She believes everyone has the right to be heard, and that it matters how we treat one another.   

Mary Beth Severson has been blessed to spend most of her career with Regions Mental Health Occupational Therapy.  She worked closely with Peg Garding, OTR/L (1951 – 2016) to develop and refine the Blue Sky Café for patients and staff on Regions NE4. 


Participants can expect to:

  • Describe the history of the Blue Sky Café, an occupation-based intervention designed for persons with serious mental illness then adapted for less acute mental health units, a pediatric inpatient mental health facility, and a school setting.
  • Verbalize awareness of how engagement in the Blue Sky Café can facilitate improved comfort in social settings, leading to increased participation in the occupations of social engagement and leisure participation
  • Identify needed materials, pre-planning measures, and ongoing “things to pay attention to”  to successfully implement a version of the Blue Sky Café in participants’ own practice setting
  • Develop, through discussion with facilitators and participants, an action plan that outlines first steps towards implementing the Blue Sky Café  in various practice settings (including but not limited to inpatient mental health)

Current Research that supports this presentation:

Craik and Pieris (2006) found that clients with mental illness identified participating in leisure pursuits as an important factor in promoting positive feelings, a greater sense of connection with community, and improved perceived quality of life.  A systematic review of the literature conducted by Smallfied and Molitor (2018) noted that strong evidence supported the efficacy of leisure education groups in improving quality of life for older adults.  And a systematic review of the literature conducted by Gibson, D’Amico, Jaffe, and Arbesman (2011) found moderate to strong evidence supporting improved psychiatric symptoms and social skills following occupational therapy social skills training for adults with serious mental illness.

Craik, C., & Pieris, Y. (2006). Without leisure… ‘It wouldn’t be much of a life’: The meaning of leisure for people with mental health problems.  British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69(5), 209-216.

Gibson, R.W., D’Amico, M., Jaffe, L., & Arbesman, M. (2011).  Occupational therapy interventions for recovery in the areas of community integration and normative life roles for adults with serious mental illness: A systematic review.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65, 247-256.  doi: 10.5014/ajot.2011.001297

Smallen, S., & Lucas Molitor, W. (2018).  Occupational therapy interventions supporting social participation and leisure engagement for community-dwelling older adults: A systematic review.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72, 720490020.  doi/10/5014/ajot.2018.030627

Target Audience: OTs/OTAs/Students

Practice Area: Occupational Therapy Process

Course level: Intermediate

Event location: Regions Hospital Mental Health (Northeast section): Activity Room

*Please park in the West Ramp, off Jackson Street, and bring your parking ticket in with you (we can validate your ticket in order to give you reduced rate parking). 

Once in the parking ramp:

Take the parking ramp elevators to the second floor (Regions’ ‘main floor’).

Follow signs to the North Lobby (if needed, please ask for help; any Regions employee will be happy to assist you).

Take the North Lobby elevators down one level, to the first floor.

Follow signs to the Northeast section; you will be walking down a long hallway, and at the end of the hallway you will be in the Northeast section.

Take the Northeast elevator up one level, to the second floor.  Once in the second floor Northeast Lobby, the Activity Room will just to your left. 

(the Northeast section of Regions’ Hospital can be difficult to find for someone coming to Regions for the first time) 

Contact District Organizers: Jennifer LeClaire  [email protected]  and/or  Megan Flood  [email protected]

Fee: MOTA members Free          Non-members $30.00 

Continuing Education Credits:  1.5 CEU

Register Here


This course fulfills the AOTA Classification Code for Continuing Education Activities: Category 2: Occupational Therapy Processes