Duboce Triangle's COAST Brings The Neighborhood Into Occupational, Speech Therapy

If you've walked by 742 14th St. (at Belcher), you've likely seen children waiting or playing outside. There's a reason: it's the home of COAST, a pediatric practice run by occupational therapist Michelle Kemper and speech language pathologist Jennifer Katz. 

Kemper and Katz, who each have more than 20 years of experience, first met several years ago through their own children, and reconnected a few years later for a joint project. At that point, Katz had a private practice, while Kemper was working on the Peninsula.

But with many children in need of both of their services, "we had this vision of collaborating," said Katz. Two years ago, the pair teamed up to rent a former tattoo studio at 14th and Belcher, adding internal walls to create a pair of private rooms for clients. 

The combined practice has proven popular, drawing families from the Presidio to Pacifica for its convenience. 

"We have a lot of families that come here for both [services]," Kemper said, noting that she and Katz often collaborate, asking each other for feedback or working with clients together. 

The bigger studio, where children have enough space to move around.

Kemper and Katz mostly focus on children aged three to 13, along with a handful of young adults. (Unsurprisingly, the after-school hours are their busiest.)

In her one-hour occupational therapy sessions, Kemper helps children improve their social skills, gross and fine motor skills, and daily living skills, like handwriting. She also helps them work on self-regulation issues and overcome sensory or processing difficulties. 

Katz, who has worked on a wide variety of speech and language disorders in her career, now specializes in pediatric feeding and oral motor difficulties, which she works to address in 30-to-45-minute sessions.

The smaller studio in the back of the practice.

As part of therapy, Katz and Kemper often take their young clients on trips out into the neighborhood. Katz has taken kids to nearby cafes or shopping at Safeway, to teach them to interact, purchase food, and learn to ask where certain items are located.

While the two women were also initially concerned about the dog grooming salon next door to their offices, it's also proven to be a useful teaching tool. The noise from barking dogs can upset some of their more sensitive young clients, but it's also relatable to those who are particularly sensitive to getting their hair or nails cut or to taking baths. 

"When we hear the dogs barking, and it's an opportunity to talk about it," Kemper said. "Some dogs like taking baths, some dogs don't like it—just like the children do. We can ask the kids questions about it. 'What do you think the dog thinks about it?'"

The storefront at 14th and Belcher.

In general, Katz and Kemper told us, families like their location, often visiting Duboce Park before or after sessions. The nearby bus and train stops are also popular with some young clients who are fascinated with transportation.

But the neighborhood presents some challenges as well. "Sometimes people sleep around the corner, and there is lots of trash that piles up," Kemper said.

Katz is also concerned about how sensitive youngsters will cope with construction noise from the apartments that are going up in the former Home Restaurant space at Market and Church. "It will be interesting," she said.

Clinics like COAST are often sterile, or tucked away in hospitals, but Duboce Triangle is a "very vibrant neighborhood," Kemper said. "We hear the fire trucks, and we hear the ambulances or the horns honking and the construction," all of which stimulate kids and help them adjust to the noisy challenges of modern life.

But Kemper and Katz also recognize that their clients are still children, and aim to create an environment that's fun for them.

"Hopefully, the kids don't feel like they are working," Kemper said. "Hopefully they feel like they are playing."

Interested in learning more? Katz and Kemper can be reached at jennifer@coastsf.com or michelle@coastsf.com.

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