OTAs Launch Gift Box to Help Seniors Stay Sharp

By George Nelson

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A product introduced by a pair of occupational therapy assistants is designed to help older adults keep their cognitive skills sharp and keep them emotionally connected with their families.

Ali Izzo and Holly Masters, who received associate degrees in occupational therapy last December from the Penn State University Shenango Campus, are the founders and co-CEOs of “Purpose” The Therapeutic Subscription Box LLC.

The subscription boxes, sold at PurposeTherapyBox.com, contain messages and photos from family members, puzzles and other items to help seniors – whether living at home or in group settings – keep their minds active.

Izzo and Masters came up with the idea while completing clinical rotations for their occupational therapy degrees last year, says Izzo, a resident of Hermitage, Pennsylvania. During their training, she and Masters would often discuss the “disconnect” they saw between seniors living in group settings and their families, as well as the sadness and boredom the residents suffered.

“We wanted to come up with something that we could do besides helping them in the facility with occupational therapy, something that could keep the families connected and keep the seniors active,” Izzo says.

The occupational therapy students were inspired by the makeup boxes they received via subscription.

“Older adults love getting mail and they love hearing from their family in any kind of way,” says Masters, who resides in Gustavis.

Izzo and Masters developed their idea when they took a class on development and administration of human service agencies. As part of the course, they had to create a mock agency or business to fulfill a need in the community.

Although the intent of the class was teaching how to launch and develop a nonprofit, instructor Claudia Brown says their idea was so promising that she allowed them to develop their for-profit business as long as they also learned nonprofit organization.

“I thought it was brilliant,” Brown says. “It addressed a real need, a gap in services to those elderly whose families are consumed with employment and children or who live a significant distance away, and who don’t want elderly loved ones to feel abandoned when at heart they are not.”

The company offers boxes, sent quarterly, that are centered around tasks such as cognition and fine motor skills. Also offered separately are birthday and thinking-of-you boxes.

“Since we are in occupational therapy, we want to send people things that will engage them, and not just trinkets and knickknacks,” Masters says.

“You do want things that are functional but also a couple of fun things that will spruce up their room,” she adds.

Customers can upload a personalized note to the recipient and up to three photos. Other items the boxes might contain, for example, are jewelry, small journals, large-print playing cars, a newsletter and picture frames, since many of the recipients don’t otherwise have a way to display photographs in their rooms.

Pictured: Contents include items that family members think will stimulate their loved one.

To assist with personalization, clients also can enter information such as favorite colors, interests or even what mobility devices the recipient might use.

When designing the boxes, Izzo and Masters visited area nursing homes to learn what kind of items residents might want. The boxes don’t contain any food products so that they stay in line with dietary restrictions.

“A lot of men said they would like beer,” Masters says.

Instead, they can include beer soap as a “good compromise” in the thinking-of-you boxes, she suggests.

Cognition and fine motor skills are skills that caregivers at Ohio Living Park Vista, Youngstown, try to strengthen in patients on a daily basis, says Denise Rubano, director of program services.

“These boxes contain crucial items that help in the aging process,” she says.

Rubano also likes the personalization, including the option of uploading photos, for the recipients.

“The personalization is an added feature that would make them feel special and in touch with their loved ones,” she says.

Purpose, which is based in Penn State Shenango’s VenturePointe incubator at the eCenter@LindenPointe in Hermitage, took its first order in June and so far has 20 subscribers, Izzo says.

The thinking-of-you and birthday boxes are $35 per box and the quarterly subscription boxes – which are sent in February, May, August and November – are $55 apiece or $215 for the whole year.

“We’ve been very fortunate to be involved with Penn State,” Masters says. “The incubator is full of resources.”

The health-care professionals – who are working toward their bachelor’s degrees in human development/family studies as well as working full time as OTAs – acknowledge they had to teach themselves to think as business people, and are grateful for what they are learning from the LindenPointe staff as well as the entrepreneurs with whom they share VenturePointe.

Izzo and Masters are marketing Purpose via social media platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest, as well as through brochures left at nursing homes and promoting the business at events such as WaterFire Sharon.

With the mentoring of Georgia Macris, the business instructor and coordinator of the VenturePoint project, Izzo and Masters have “exceeded expectations,” says their teacher, Brown.

“They have networked successfully with key local and regional resources, are absorbing the peer support available through the LindenPointe eCenter incubator and accelerator in Hermitage, and are mastering internet advertising and marketing methods,” Brown notes.

She predicts the company will show a profit and move on from the incubator within a year, “encouraging future students to see entrepreneurship as a real and sustainable career option.”

The entrepreneurs had a chance to pitch their concept – still in its “idea phase” to representatives of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” who were encouraged by what they heard, according to Izzo.

“We gave them a one-minute pitch,” she says.

“It was so much fun and we made great connections.”

Pictured: Ali Izzo and Holly Masters, founders and co-CEOs of “Purpose” The Therapeutic Subscription Box LLC.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.