(Above: As an active Wellness Ambassadors volunteer, Thomas Harris, front row, guides and encourages his colleagues in health and well-being activities, such as this staff fitness class. Image courtesy of Thomas Harris.)
It's been almost a year since Life & Work Connections revamped and relaunched the University of Arizona Wellness Ambassadors program. Despite the unpredictable twists and turns of 2020, these hardworking employee volunteers have made a valuable impact on their colleagues' workplace well-being.
Since last June, a total of 73 ambassadors have joined the team, representing 15% of University departments. As the program coordinator, I'm grateful for the good work that each and every one of them has done, and the fantastic partners they have shown themselves to be. Over the next year, I hope to see even more volunteers come on board, to serve an even greater proportion of the University community.
The strength of the program is in the way each ambassador works to understand their unit. They are that person on the ground, staying in touch with that department's rhythms, needs, and hopes. Wellness Ambassadors don't just spread the word about Life & Work Connections programming – they highlight and create opportunities that fit with their co-workers' desires.
I'm excited to share some of the great activities they've done, and perhaps help spark ideas for you to bring to your own units.
Monthly wellness workshops in Athletics
Thomas Harris is the assistant athletic director for diversity, inclusion, and employee engagement for the Department of Athletics. An active and enthusiastic member of the Wellness Ambassadors, he has established monthly Wellness Wednesdays, which offer voluntary one-hour presentations for employees on various topics.
Led by the clinical and sport psychology team, as well as Life & Work Connections, the sessions have addressed burnout, anxiety, and more. "Our employees know that they have resources if they need help, because we highlight those resources during our workshops," Harris said.
Harris hopes that Wellness Wednesdays provide his colleagues with a safe space to discuss well-being issues, and he believes it has advanced his goal to build a culture of belonging and care. "Our staff has told us that they feel encouraged, supported, and valuable after attending the sessions," he said.
Making time, and connections, at Nursing
Over in the College of Nursing, Yvette Mathesen serves as coordinator for the Steele Innovative Learning Center. For nearly two years now, she has hosted a midweek gathering where faculty and staff members come together for learning, sharing, and fostering camaraderie.
The alcohol-free "HAppy Hour" – so named to emphasize the value of laughter – moved to the virtual realm with the onset of the pandemic. As the Wellness Ambassadors program ramped up last summer, Mathesen made sure to make space for Life & Work Connections presentations amid her calendar of chair yoga sessions, community service projects, and arts and crafts activities.
"The HAppy Hours have been so awesome, especially during the pandemic," said Paige Hacker Bravo, a nurse simulation specialist. "It's helped me to regularly build time in to address my own personal wellness, either through physical activities or social connectedness.
"I feel like it also helps the College of Nursing be a stronger team. Whenever I need to reach out to someone I don't usually work with, I now have that preexisting connection," she said.
Gratitude Wall goes digital at Pharmacy
Ambassador Elizabeth Pepper is the coordinator for student services at the College of Pharmacy. One of her remote-work success stories? Bringing a favorite celebration of appreciation into the digital realm.
"The Gratitude Wall was suggested by one of our students back in 2020, right before the pandemic hit," Pepper said. "When everything moved to a virtual format, we put it into a Padlet online."
On the Gratitude Wall, people in the college can post anything they're grateful for, or share any joyful news. Others can "like" or comment on their posts. "It has really helped students, faculty, and staff maintain a connection with the PharmCat community!" Pepper said.
College of Pharmacy employees also participated in Move Arizona, the University's new workplace movement initiative, this spring. The Office of Student Services team alone racked up over 21,000 minutes of movement.
"It was quite fun and motivating for all involved," said Pepper, who served as team captain. (Indeed, more than 20% of this year's Move Arizona teams were led by an ambassador!)
Gratitude and pride
This past year has been challenging for University of Arizona employees in so many ways. I am thankful and proud of the work all the Wellness Ambassadors have done, and continue to do, to help each other, their co-workers, and our whole University community.
As they endeavor to promote workplace wellness and strengthen a culture of well-being, the Wellness Ambassadors personify each of the University's values of integrity, compassion, exploration, adaptation, inclusion, and determination.