Only one year old, N.C. Center for Health & Wellness already counts its successes
Deep inside the Sherrill Center at UNC Asheville, there's a unique kitchen that was built for teaching classes. It is often used by UNC Asheville students, faculty and staff, but on recent Monday and Wednesday afternoons, a group of middle and high school students from around Buncombe County have been preparing meals there. In one February session, the group sliced, chopped, and sautéed their way through veggie kabobs with chimichurri marinade under the direction of Kids at Work's program coordinator Corey Costanzo and support of the staff of the N.C. Center for Health and Wellness (NCCHW). Learning never tasted this good.
The program aims to empower at-risk youths through the culinary arts while also teaching them healthy eating habits. Originally, Costanzo had difficulty finding a commercial-grade kitchen in Asheville where he could teach the students, but he received a welcome invitation from UNC Asheville Health and Wellness Department and the NCCHW. When Kids at Work comes to campus, the group interacts with university students, faculty, and staff—learning, not just cooking.
Only a year old, the NCCHW is a statewide hub whose mission is to encourage healthy weight for children, youth and young adults; improve worksite wellness and promote healthy aging.
The partnership with Kids at Work is just one of the numerous relationships the NCCHW has created in its first year. Not all programs hosted by NCCHW have the Center's staff working directly with the individuals they are trying to help. The organization often trains the people who organize health initiatives in schools or businesses—teaching them the best practices for being effective health leaders.
Take for example the groups of school personnel who come to campus for training on the Physical Activity Resource Lending Library—a program offered by the Be Active-Appalachian State Partnership. The NCCHW teamed up with the Appalachian State University-based organization for this project to combat childhood obesity throughout the state. It allows school personnel to borrow physical education equipment at no cost to their respective institutions.
“The equipment has been a hit for the most part—the kids even called class fun," said Sara Monson, a teacher at Asheville Middle School.
NCCHW staff members serve on boards, councils, steering committees, task forces and in other leadership positions with 19 groups across the state. “A significant success for the NCCHW in 2011 was the establishment of relationships and partnerships with individuals and organizations across the community, region and state," said Dr. David Gardner, the executive director of the North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness. "During our first year, the NCCHW staff worked in collaboration with more than 35 organizations to promote health and wellness through prevention programs, initiatives and messages.”
Target 1: Healthy Weight for Children, Youth and Young Adults
According to estimates, partner organizations working with NCCHW reach more than 64,000 school-age children and young adult across the state. The organization exceeded it first-year goals in reaching students by 145 percent.
Target 2: Worksite Wellness
NCCHW exceeded its goals in partnering with worksite wellness groups by more than 500 percent. In that focus area, the Center targets schools to encourage increased physical activity, tobacco avoidance, and healthy eating among faculty and staff. NCCHW originally estimated they could have an impact on 750 school employees, but wound up reaching more than 4,600.
Target 3: Healthy Aging
While falling slightly short of its target for healthy aging – due in large part, to budget cuts that impacted community-based services and programs for older adults – the NCCHW and the Council on Aging (COA) of Buncombe County successfully developed and delivered a model of replication for Project EMMA (Eat Better, Move More, Age Well). EMMA ‘s main goals are to improve access to and the consumption of local fresh foods as well as increasing physical activity, and the overall mental well-being through exercise and alternative therapy programs to older adults.
Contributing to a Healthier Campus
The Sherrill Center is quickly becoming synonymous with health and wellness beyond the campus. “Since its official opening in August, the Sherrill Center became a preferred and popular destination for health and wellness meetings, conferences and events," said Gardner. "The NCCHW and Sherrill Center hosted more than 30 events, including the Eat Smart, Move More N.C. Leadership Team meeting in September. That was the first time that meeting had been held outside of the Triangle.”
Though NCCHW's mission spans the state, its influence is visible around campus – from students eating healthier foods to faculty and staff who are making the effort to exercise regularly.
The Center teamed up with UNC Asheville's Worksite Wellness Program to support the group both financially and through representation on their committee. The committee has served hundreds of university employees by offering services such as personal health coaching and training, Lunch-n-Learn sessions, health-risk appraisals and dietary analysis from UNC Asheville’s registered dietitian, Janet Zusi. The program has influenced many faculty and staff members to take up exercise as a group and on their own.
NCCHW partnered with the university's Health and Wellness students. Their goal is get students to complete 150 minutes of physical activity and eat 25 servings of fruits and vegetables each week. What started with brainstorming sessions with Health and Wellness Senior Seminar students last spring led to a campus-wide marketing campaign. Students developed the BodySmart@UNC Asheville social marketing campaign, which currently has over 120 followers on Facebook. A health survey has been implemented and can be found on the Center’s website. The survey has helped the NCCHW track students’ activities and their health patterns.
“Since I have been focusing on eating healthier I have been introduced to many new foods I never would have experienced," Senior Emily Pineda says of her new healthy living habits. "Increasing fruit and vegetables in my diet as well as being physically active makes me feel stronger from the inside out.”
For more information visit the North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness website or follow the center on Facebook.