Upon graduating with a BS in Exercise Science and an MS in Sport Studies, I knew I wanted to use my knowledge to help others and became a program director for a YMCA. After 6 years of successful leadership, I was laid off because of the YMCA’s fiscal constraints during the recession. From that disappointment, I found a new passion. That’s when my adventure really began. Today, I serve as the inaugural director for High Point University's Employee Wellness program which serves 965 employees, ripples to over 5200 students and reaches a community and beyond.
Working with our employees as part of our Earth Day Celebration 2018.
Service to others has always been a cornerstone of who I am. Upon leaving the YMCA, I moved into a role as a health and wellness coach with a large medical system in the Southeast. When HPU hired me as the inaugural director, I knew that health coaching HAD to be part of a program for our employees! Serving as a health coach allowed me to partner with individuals to help them experience greater success through a holistic model of wellbeing. I experienced firsthand how partnering with someone on their wellness journey helps them become happier by living a healthier, more holistic way of life. That was an amazing thing to see.
I’ve always been a perpetual learner and believe each of us should continue growing and strengthening our intellectual well-being. And yet, in all my educational pursuits, I have found becoming a Wellcoaches Health and Wellness Coach and pursuing the National Board Certification for Health and Wellness Coaching as the most valuable allowing me to serve people and assist them in achieving greater success, become stronger, and more resilient in our ever-changing world where living healthy is often a challenge. Coupled with professional memberships through WELCOA and Wellcoaches Coach in Training, I am afforded vital opportunities to develop professionally and grow personally. Also, by networking with other health and wellness professionals, we help each other with programming. In doing so, we share ideas and collaborate to help everyone we work with reach what they want to in life.
Wellness modeling starts at home. I have two daughters, ages 16 and 12, and they are both wonderful, strong young women; I know I have to show them what a healthy lifestyle means. So, I talk to them about the importance of sleep, exercise, stress management and healthy eating habits. I do the same thing for myself – and I’m not a big fan of vegetables. But my parents laid the foundation for activity and healthy eating early in my life and instilled in me the capacity to take life as it comes. I now make exercise a daily quest, and when I talk with our employees, we share with each other the areas of wellness where we are not as strong – such as my stance on vegetables – and we talk about exercise not as a weight-loss mechanism, but more as an avenue toward stress relief and better mental health.
In the beginning of HPU’s Employee Wellness Program, the road was wide with opportunity -- but ripe with challenge.
I discovered that campus employees had a fear of sharing information and losing their privacy. In all, I felt they didn’t trust a wellness program. Little by little, though, we on the wellness team gained their trust and dismantled their fears by building a strong rapport. We talked with them one-on-one and helped them understand how they could take control of their own health and well-being instead of remaining a victim to circumstances believed to be out of their control.
Now, five years later, I’ve seen employees train for a 5K, begin meditation and gratitude practices, and embrace healthier food choices. I’m proud of that. As one of our exercise science professors said, “Melissa takes a coaching approach and applies it to the entire campus.” That is one of highest compliments I have received.
With the help of WELCOA’s Seven Benchmarks, I developed interventions our employees see as meaningful. We have built a successful team of wellness champions, and we’ve reached more employees and built a stronger image of wellness campus-wide. Moreover, we have consistently advocated for personal choice and autonomy through our six pillars of wellness -- physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, occupational and social.
Currently, 75 percent of our 965 campus employees participate in wellness programming. We attracted more employees after adding meditation and stress management opportunities. We partnered with our minister and HPU’s chapel office to convert an unusable space into a meditation room and held weekly guided meditation sessions for employees and created a space where they could practice on their own. With meditation pillows, modifiable lighting, and a water feature that creates a calming effect, the space has become a way for employees to step away from the stressors of the day.
Additionally, now our employees are making healthier food choices. By working with our food vendor, we have successfully raised our campus PETA2 rating from a B+ to an A+ rating over the last year. Our chefs have added many gluten-free and allergen-free eating options for employees to choose from; we have an on-site dietitian who reviews all of our recipes -- and audits each one of them -- to verify the published ingredients and nutrition information is correct.
Our dietitian also counsels and helps create personal eating plans for more than 15 percent of our campus employees. And those sessions on nutrition have paid off. In the last six months, our employees with Diabetes have seen a 10 percent decrease in their A1C numbers because they have decreased portion sizes, made healthier choices at home and at work and have become more mindful of what they eat.
The future is bright for wellness programming. At High Point University, we will continue building upon a strong culture of wellness by strengthening current stress management and resiliency interventions and offering more financial, mental, and social wellness programming. By embracing the multiple dimensions of wellness and allowing employees the autonomy to choose where and what wellness looks like for themselves, we will not only build trust between the employees and the organization, but also help employees build self-efficacy that empowers them to take on new opportunities and excel beyond anything they ever imagined. As wellness professionals, we become their partner in good health, and we enable them to spread what they learn to their families and their communities. Everyone around them has a chance to become healthier and happier. We help make that happen. I can’t think of a higher calling in life than that.