By Kathleen Downey
“I have a passion for experiencing life fully, through the senses,” states Lori Hartwig. Her passion is a philosophy that informs her life. An occupational therapist assistant (OTA) with the Lowell Public School System, Hartwig says, “I find a therapeutic approach to teach children who are at risk of not reaching their potential in school.” She offers an example. “Kids are more likely to learn to write their name in sand or fragrant Jell-O powder,” Hartwig explains, “than with pencil and paper.”
Helping others, particularly children, to reach their full potential is a mission that Hartwig embraces. “I firmly believe in human potential,” she states. “We are all programmed to succeed, but sometimes obstacles get in our way.”
Hartwig is committed to helping “at risk” children overcome the learning obstacles placed before them. She cites as obstacles “anything that might limit a child’s ability to successfully participate in a school’s curriculum—whether a learning disability, a physical disability or impairment, a developmental delay, or something else that might be going on in a child’s life.”
“As a child, I met the ‘at risk’ criteria,” Hartwig shares. She grew up with her brother and sister in a small, rural town in southwestern North Dakota. Her father passed away when Hartwig was a little girl, and she and her siblings were raised by their young mother. Hartwig was a sensitive child with a natural intuition who keenly felt the weight of isolation. When she became an adult, she wished for new and healing sensory experiences.
“My supportive family and an array of inspiring, nurturing teachers were the ‘wind beneath my wings,’” she says, when Hartwig left her hometown of Dickinson, ND, in the late 1980s, in her quest.
Those wings carried Hartwig from to Denver, to Boston, and ultimately to Newburyport.
“I was a 25-year-old art student when I lived in Denver,” Hartwig says. An acquaintance who was then living in the Boston area convinced Hartwig to come East, where she worked as an au pair and continued her studies, earning a degree in art education and a teacher certification in visual art from the Massachusetts Art Institute. “I have always held education in the highest regard,” says Hartwig. “I want to help lift others higher, through teaching and by example.”
She landed her first teaching job was at the Corwin Russell School, in Sudbury, MA. The private academic institution prides itself in helping students “discover and develop the best in themselves: academically, creatively, socially, and personally.” “I loved the place,” Hartwig says of the art-based school. The strong art and theater curriculum appealed to Hartwig’s lifelong affinity for art as meditative, reflective, and healing therapy.
A desire to help children in a more therapeutic manner inspired Hartwig to further her education. Her subsequent degree in occupational therapy served to fuel Hartwig’s passion for implementing more sensory-based teaching.
But it was Hartwig’s discovery of Qigong Sensory Training that could be described as a kind of kismet. A massage-themed practice that integrates Chinese medicine with preventive medicine, Qigong is geared to helping children with autism through early intervention delivered through gentle, hands-on body work.
“The gentle patting and/or pressing motions on specific body ‘meridians’ is intended to facilitate wellness and healing,” explains Hartwig.
She studied under and received her certification in Qigong Sensory Training from Dr. Louisa Silva, founder of this healing method. “Through Qigong, I can help children with sensory challenges by reaching those on the autism spectrum,” Hartwig says.
“As an early intervention professional, I teach parents and primary caregivers of children with autism 12 specific hand movements that will allow them to deliver the Qigong protocol themselves,” Hartwig explains. She adds that optimal results are achieved when the delivery is adjusted, based on an individual child’s reaction to light touch. “With practice, and when delivered in daily 15-minute sessions, most parents will see some form of developmental gains in their child within one to five months,” Hartwig shares her experience.
Warm, kind, and compassionate with eyes that laugh and a smile that is genuine, Hartwig shines brightly when doing what she loves best. Whether in her role as an OTA or as an early intervention professional of Qigong Sensory Training, she feels a “heartfelt connection” with her students and with her clients.
It was a heartfelt connection that drew her to Charlie, her longtime partner, soon-to-be husband, and love of her life. “We met at a friend’s party,” Hartwig says. “It was my first year teaching at the Corwin,” she gives as a timeline. A mutual friend had been trying to get the two together, but neither had known that the other would be attending the party. They passed one another in the hallway of their host, unaware that they were one another’s “fix-up.” And yet . . . they knew, Hartwig shares. For the two educators (Charlie teaches and is also a corporate branding/marketing professional), “It was love at first sight!”
The couple lived together outside of Boston before moving to Newburyport in 2001. Hartwig still recalls a moonlit evening in their generously-sized South End backyard, shortly after moving to the Port. “Charlie was watching some sport on TV,” she recalls with a smile, fond of the memory but not fond enough of the particular sport to remember it. “So I stepped outside, picked up a rake, and started making designs in the dirt. I had an idea for the patterns I was creating, but I didn’t how they would actually take shape.”
Years later, those patterns have transformed a once barren landscape into a lush, private sanctuary. Fragrant flowers, shrubbery, vines, vegetable and herb gardens, and sheltering trees bring beauty, solace, and quietude to the property, and appeal joyously to the senses.
Later this summer, the couple will tie the knot in their beautiful, enchanted garden . . . kismet.
Hartwig welcomes inquiries about her experience with Qigong Sensory Training; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathleen Downey is the Features Editor for Newburyport Today. If you are a townie or a citizen who would like to be profiled (or to suggest someone to profile), or if you have an idea for a feature story, please email: Kathleen@Newburyport-Today.com.