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W&M Health & Wellness pivots to providing support virtually

  • Interior of McLeod Tyler Wellness Center with low seats on dark hardwood floor
    Health & Wellness:  The interior of the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center at William & Mary contains inviting spaces for various classes and activities.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Yoga, meditation, knitting therapy and other wellness activities are still available for members of the William & Mary community.

They have just moved online as the current COVID-19 outbreak has everyone adapting to a more virtual way of participating.

Health & Wellness did a quick pivot to producing video content as the campus community started to disperse in mid-March, according to Kelly Crace, associate vice president for health and wellness. Those videos and other resources are available on the new Virtual Health & Wellness website, which launched March 19.

The Health & Wellness departments were motivated to stay connected to the campus community with material vital to people staying healthy during this stressful time. The need became clear when 160 people participated in the first live remote yoga class on March 18.

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“Everything went online,” said Lindsay Heck, manager of the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center. “We wanted to move to action because we felt like that was the right thing to do — to be able to give wellness options to our community and, with that, hope. Hope that we will get through this together.

“This whole occurrence is a signal for resilience. Our staff has really rallied together to fight through this to keep their Tribe together.”

Jesse Windley, associate director of digital content & strategy for University Web & Design, quickly built the website and had it up and ready for the addition of more content.

“Since its launch, the website has already evolved as additional video content became available,” Windley said. “We’ll continue to build in new ways to present the growing collection of videos, resources and other virtual opportunities for easy browsing and viewing.”

Patti DeBlass conducts a virtual morning yoga class.The website and W&M Wellness app include videos, articles and resources for promotion of health and wellness. Programming emphasizes the eight dimensions of integrated wellness that the departments focus on — emotional/mental, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social and spiritual.

Live FitWell classes are offered daily and, along with all other sessions, are recorded and archived for use anytime. Planned material includes a wellness series and segments with a dietician.

“We are working on creating a semi-regular schedule, so that students and faculty/staff members can have some regular classes to look forward to, while still working in a variety of diverse health and wellness offerings throughout the week,” said Jenny Dunfee, associate director of fitness and wellness with Campus Recreation.

“In addition to yoga, cardio and strength training classes, we will continue to offer meditation and art therapy. And we are working on workshops for nutrition, qi gong and better sleep.”

Crace called the project “an exceptional work of collaboration from inception to release to ongoing work.” He said March and April are usually his departments’ busiest months of the year, spanning the full continuum of health promotion and prevention, to Campus Rec activities and programs to the peak clinical demands of the Counseling Center and Student Health Center. 

“In other words, it is a time when we are interacting the most with our students,” Crace said. “As soon as this changed, all four of our departments pivoted to think creatively how we could maintain those valuable relationships and interactions. We also wanted to help those who are a part of our students' lives, their parents and the faculty and staff of this community. 

“It became quickly evident that we needed to build a Virtual Health & Wellness site and venture into the world of telehealth for both our medical and mental health services.”

Many departments have contributed to the effort, Crace said.

“It woSarah Balascio demonstrates art therapy in one of the website's videos.uldn't have happened without collaborative partnerships and sound leadership,” he added. “Jesse Windley from Web & Design, Jenny Dunfee and Lindsay Heck and their student leaders from Health & Wellness brought this vision to reality. What is most satisfying is the true modeling of collaboration and the level of creativity it has evoked from our staff. It's also been inspiring to see other universities follow suit.”

Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities have used the website as a template for their own, according to Crace.

As people have become isolated and cut off from many of their regular routines because of changes due to COVID-19, the virtual wellness presence is available for them to access.

“There is so much uncertainty that understandably triggers stress and anxiety,” Heck said. “We are giving our people tools to work through this in a healthy way. We're doing this to help empower our people, a reminder that this time is going to pass.

“My hope is that we are reminding them that we are still the Tribe; we are a community. It doesn't matter where you are. This is hard for people and we have to make the intentional choice every day to care for our bodies and minds.”