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No need to guess

by Krista Habermehl, MA'05 | January 30, 2017

No need to guess
From left: Western President & Vice-Chancellor Amit Chakma, Wellness Coordinator Melanie-Anne Atkins, BEd'10, MEd'12, PhD'16, and Fairmount Foundation's Heidi Balsillie, officially opened the Wellness Education Centre in the UCC in October.

Western students now have a safe, central and supportive space to access health-and-wellness resources thanks to a $1-million donation from the Fairmount Foundation.

The Wellness Education Centre is a one-stop shop for students seeking mental-health/wellness resources, nutrition information, as well as sexual-violence prevention education and survivors’ support.

“With this gift, the Fairmount Foundation has helped us to provide a safe, comfortable place where our students can access health and wellness resources in a personalized way,” said Jana Luker, Associate Vice-President (Student Experience). “It really removes the guesswork involved in deciding whether a service is the right fit or not. That’s a huge help to students who might find the number of services available overwhelming or confusing.”

Established by Western alumna Heidi Balsillie, BA’82, in 2013, the Fairmount Foundation aims to help individuals or groups overcome obstacles to move closer to living full, healthy lives. The places and programs the foundation supports are varied, but have a common goal of lifting people up or lending a hand in their life journey.

Balsillie, whose son and daughter are also Western graduates, says supporting Western and its initiatives was a natural decision.

“It is my hope, with this gift, to directly impact the lives of Western’s students in a positive manner. I want all Western students to feel like they are a part of this community, and to feel as though they have had lots of opportunities for personal and academic growth,” she said.

In addition to supporting the operations and activities of the Wellness Education Centre, the gift also provides funding for new health-and-wellness programming and workshops, including an annual lecture series that brings speakers to campus on the topic of health and wellness. In 2016, Olympian, motivational speaker and mental-health advocate Clara Hughes spoke to the Western community as part of the Fairmount Foundation Health and Wellness Lecture Series.

“I hope the lecture series will provide learning and inspiration of a less academic and more psychological and emotional type — with each speaker no doubt affecting everyone differently,” Balsillie said.

The gift also supports international learning bursaries, valued at $1,000 and $2,000, to provide students facing financial difficulty with the opportunity to study abroad. It is Balsillie’s hope that bursary recipients will gain new and exciting life experiences that will expand their world and enhance their futures – opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“From the very beginning of my university career I have aspired to participate in the exchange program at Western, but my biggest concern was how I would fund it seeing as I fund my studies through OSAP,” said Western Engineering student Maria Garcia. “I would like the Fairmount Foundation to know that this bursary is going to go a long way in helping me achieve my dream of going abroad to study.”

Students are welcome to drop in to the centre, which is located on the lower level of the University Community Centre (UCC), between 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, to ask questions of the staff or partake in wellness activities, like lunch-hour meditation.

“We give students a sense of power and control over their health and wellness. This is a space where they can come and make their own decisions and choices based on the information we provide,” said Meghan Unick, Senior Peer Wellness Educator at the centre and a current Nursing student. “I wish there was a support service like this when I was in my early undergraduate years.”

Students who come for one reason may also leave with information about services or resources they didn’t realize were available, Unick said, such as the fact there’s a registered dietician on staff and students can receive free dietary services as part of their student health plan.

“What we’re doing is actually educating students about how they can take concrete steps to improve their own wellness,” said Wellness Coordinator Melanie-Anne Atkins, BEd’10, MEd’12, PhD’16, who creates and facilitates the centre’s programming and training. Going forward, Atkins hopes to conduct student-based research to evaluate current offerings and create new programming.

The Wellness Education Centre is a collaborative effort between Student Experience and Student Health Services and has seen approximately 1,000 students since it quietly opened its doors in early 2016.

This article appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of Impact Western
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