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Western University Be Extraordinary The Campaign For Western

Donors feed students’ stomachs and minds

September 1, 2017

Melanie-Anne Atkins, WEC Wellness Coordinator

During the stress and chaos of final exams, 420 Western students were treated to a free, healthy breakfast thanks to a pop-up initiative led by Western Alumni at the University Community Centre (UCC) in April.

Called It’s On Me, the outreach effort invited Western alumni to donate $10 for a $5-breakfast voucher for a student and $5 to support Western’s Wellness Education Centre (WEC).

In less than 48 hours, the organic social media push saw alumni contribute 420 breakfast vouchers and $2,100 for WEC, which is housed in the UCC and provides Western students a safe, comfortable environment to get connected with wellness resources on campus and in the community. On the first day, the #ItsOnMe hashtag was trending on social media platforms.

For Western alumna Melanie Peacock, MBA’90, purchasing It’s On Me vouchers was a simple gesture for immediate, tangible impact.

“It was such a tremendous thing. It allows us to give back directly to students – right now. It’s not just the breakfast to me; it’s the encouragement. It’s the thought behind the breakfast. The fact they know, ‘Not only am I getting a free breakfast, but someone actually cares about me – someone who’s been there, done that and is thinking about me.’ It’s the meaning behind the gesture that’s really impactful,” she said.

Melanie-Anne Atkins, WEC Wellness Coordinator, was thrilled to see the overwhelming support and success of the campaign.

“What alumni are saying by supporting this appeal is, ‘When I was your age, this was really difficult and I want to make sure things are better for you,’” said Atkins, BEd’10, MEd’12, PhD’16.

“That was what was so special about it; having alumni say they’d love the opportunity to take care of someone. I used to have to convince people about the connection between mental health and academic success, but, the fact that alumni are recognizing it and choosing to support it in such a tangible way is exciting.”

According to Atkins, the success of appeals like It’s On Me highlight a significant cultural shift.

“People are starting to recognize wellness as a holistic concept. This is what we’re doing here. We’re saying, ‘Hey, students, you’re not an island and it’s not just about academics. For you to be successful, not just at the institution, but in life, all these pieces need attention, love and care. And we can help you figure that out.’”

In the year-and-a-half since WEC opened its doors, the service has grown significantly, from the number of staff members – up to 17 from six – to the number of clients served. In 2016/17, more than 700 client intake forms were completed, with many more people visiting and dropping in to seek advice and take advantage of health and wellness programs.

As the demand continues to increase, Atkins stressed the importance of donations.

“Donor support is critical,” she said. “With more funds, we can expand the way we educate the Western community and beyond about wellness. We can have more targeted resources. I can hire more students to do more outreach. We can get better furniture and more useful equipment. Right now, I cannot supervise one more student. We actually have to say no to students who want to be a part of this because I need more help.”

Atkins hopes to ramp up mental-health education by increasing capacity with more student volunteers and staff and, eventually, make WEC a research hub specific to wellness education in the postsecondary environment.

“This is not going away,” she said. “We need to build a team where everyone knows what I know and feels empowered to spread that message. Then we need to become an applied research hub to front-load prevention and legitimize the importance of mental-health education.”

For more information about WEC and its services, visit wec.uwo.ca.


This article appeared in the 2017 edition of Annual Impact
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