Integrated Wellness with Guest Heather Sadowski

In this week’s episode, Tina and Serena talk with Heather Sadowski from the University Of Richmond. They talk about the integrated wellness programs available to college students and staff at the University of Richmond. The wellness center and the programs associated with the wellness center supports not only the physical well-being of its people, but also supports mental health all in one integrated facility. Listen in to hear about this innovative program!

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Transcript

Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.

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Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website, NoNeedToExplainPodcast.com.

Tina: Serena, we have now worked together in one capacity or another for, I think, going on 8 years, right? And in all of those years we have worked with some common themes all surrounding wellness of one kind or another.

Serena: Right and one of the things we notice and appreciate is when wellness is all encompassing thing. Like, whole body, not the, “We will see you for this part and that part.”

Tina: Yes. And in our experience, especially by Western medical standards, it is rare to see someone as a whole person, mind, body and soul altogether, right? We have very much appreciated facilities that integrate mind and body and today we have a special guest from a very special place, my new home at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia.

Serena: This special guest is an expert in all things wellness. Heather Sadowski oversees all aspects of health promotion, employee and student well-being, Well-being Center operations, and staffing for the Center for Awareness Response and Education (CARE). Her duties include employee and student well-being outreach and implementation of campus wide well-being programming. Heather is a certified Wellness Coach, Certified Health Education Specialist, and Tobacco Treatment Specialist; trained through the Mayo Clinic. She is also an instructor of the wellness graduation requirements WELL 100 and WELL 101 courses. Heather, welcome to the podcast.

Heather: Hi Tina and Serena! Thank you for having me and I am so excited to share with you all more about myself, and the well-being initiatives at the University of Richmond!

Tina: Before we launch into the amazing things you are doing here at the University of Richmond, tell us a little bit of your story.

Heather: Well, this may be a little more than just a little bit, so I appreciate you all listening.

I am a mother, wife, sister, daughter, educator, student and lover of all things wellness and self-care related. I say many times that I teach wellness related courses to really remind myself to practice what I teach! Because I need those reminders too – Sometimes I just need to pause and take a breath, we all do, and we really shouldn’t feel guilty about it!

Finding our well-being journey is what I love helping others find and really, truly experience. I am not perfect, but every day, I intentionally do something that makes my heart smile in terms of my well-being!

So with all that said, I started my work in public K-12 school settings, community health settings, and then I’ve worked in both public and private institutions of higher education. I have been at the University of Richmond for a little over 8 years, and have the opportunity to work with colleagues across campus daily to promote the health and well-being of our faculty, staff and students.

Something that I would like to highlight is our shared campus-wide wellness focus: UR Well.

Serena: Yeah, that’s incredible. So tell us more about UR Well and what does that look like on your campus?

Heather: Sure. So, UR Well represents the University’s health and well-being initiative to create a culture of well-being across our campus. The Health & Well-being Unit (which is my unit of Health Promotion, our Student Health Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, University Recreation, Disability Services, and our Operations Team) provide a true holistic and integrated approach to creating a thriving, collaborative campus culture. We cannot do this alone, so we have many campus partners strengthening the Unit effort by providing UR WELL programs and services that contribute to this culture.

And exciting news too! UR Well now has a structural home within the Well-Being Center. The Well-Being Center is a comprehensive and integrated facility that includes all campus health care in one location, really providing easy access for students and designed to be a collaborative high-impact environment to support student learning, student well-being, and student success. The Well-Being Center impacts retention and graduation rates of our students by providing affordable and convenient health and wellness services and programs delivered by professionals attuned to the unique stressors and needs of college students.

Tina: Yeah, so I just want to repeat that. When you say the impact…the Wellbeing Center impacts retention and graduation rates of our students. That is hugely important! You know, we do a lot of family engagement and one of those measures is what are the outcomes? What are the graduation rates? And that is super important when we’re talking about data, right? So tell us a bit more about this unique support system.

Heather: Sure. We really focus on the “upstream” approach by providing programs and activities that are associated with healthful decision making and prevention. By instilling these positive habits ranging from nutrition and sleep to stress management and sexual health, students are less in need of the “downstream” services associated with intervention and rescue.

Our true goal is that when a student walks into the Well-being Center, they know they are in the correct place and can get the assistance that is needed for them at that given moment - it may be clinical services, nutrition services, or self-care services that our center offers.

Serena: Yeah, so I love this idea that students can just walk in and seek support for a variety of different needs. To me that’s such a normalizing experience that we don’t often see and clearly you’re all about comprehensive wellness which is incredible. So tell us a bit about how University of Richmond came to have this amazing support system for all members of the university community?

Heather: We are so fortunate and grateful for our generous donors, Marcus and Carole Weinstein for their efforts and thinking to make the Weinstein Center for Recreation a reality, over 15 years ago. And I’m so grateful for my friend and colleague, Marty Tomlin, who is our director of University Recreation. I also want to mention that we’re so very fortunate to have our lead donors of the Wellbeing Center that saw a vision and wanted to make that vision a reality for wellbeing across our campus community.

I also want to give a shout out to our leaders within the Health and Well-Being Unit and Student Development; Tom Roberts and Steve Bisese for their visions of incorporating campus wellness and campus-wide clinical services in one building with prevention and educational services. We opened in January 2021 with all tenants within the building and under one roof.

Tina: It truly is amazing and I’ve had the lucky opportunity to visit the Wellbeing Center. I just want to keep going back and back and back. I just can’t say enough. It is like nothing I have ever seen on any campus we have experienced and we’ve been to quite a few campuses. Walk us through the concept of what you might experience if you come to the Well-Being Center.

Heather: I would love to. All of the amenities, and “gems” as we like to call them have an intentional purpose within the Well-being Center. As the Well-Being Center being the primary home for the Health and Well-being Unit and our UR Well initiative on campus, we have an opportunity to increase and centralize our programming within five key areas of well-being: exercise, nutrition, self care, mindfulness, and sleep. These five key areas were determined based on the American College Health Association Spring 2018 Executive Summary of our students across campus.

The goal is for anyone who enters the Well-Being Center to experience the amenities, and find what they enjoy doing for their self-care practices. Maybe that’s spending time in the salt therapy area, maybe that’s a mindfulness practice within the meditation garden, or even writing a note of gratitude to a friend, or experiencing fueling the body with the nutritional elements of the demonstration kitchen and Organic Krush café.

We also provide tips on replicating these amenities into your residence hall, apartment or home. So all amenities have an intentional and educational purpose behind them.

Serena: So again, that comprehensive approach which is incredible. It seems like you are helping people build their resilience toolbox for life.

Heather: I like that! Yes, we truly focus on the holistic approach to well-being when creating this resilience toolbox! All five of these areas are essential to ensure that an individual is thriving, and these key areas have been shown to improve one or more of the main impediments to academic success, which include: stress, anxiety, sleep difficulties, and depression. Representing areas to thrive, these five key symbols are located in the Well-Being Center, and the gems are marked with the symbols that best display the focus area of holistic well-being. The symbols direct our campus to opportunities that support and cultivate opportunities that can lead to optimal well-being both within the new Well-Being Center and beyond.

Tina: Mmm. I love that. It’s…I can’t say enough. It is totally amazing and I will also mention that when you did the grand opening or whatever you called it, the witnessing of students who came forward and said, without this, I would be in a terrible place. It gets me a little emotional. So meeting those students was just totally amazing. Another exciting piece of this experience and part of what you do, is the peer support and peer instructors within wellness classes you have helped to implement. Tell us a bit about that program and how you have seen it benefit students.

Heather: I’d love to and our students are why we’re here. The peer support is more of a co-instructor role and peer instructor for our new WELL 100: Introduction to College Life at the University of Richmond, wellness graduation requirement. The peer instructors co-facilitate the course with a professional staff member of the University of Richmond for 14-weeks. These classes are 75 minutes per class.

In May 2021, our University of Richmond Faculty Senate approved a three-part wellness series. In keeping with the University of Richmond's objective of fostering knowledge and peer wellness, every undergraduate at Richmond is required to complete a three-part series on wellness.

This series includes, within the first semester of enrollment, all students must attempt and complete the WELL 100: Introduction to College Life at the University of Richmond, a 14-week course that has that peer instructor. This includes tools to thrive during the college years. The course also has an online Alcohol Edu component as well as sexual assault for undergrads. This component of online education is required before our students arrive on-campus.

Then by the end of the student’s fourth semester of enrollment, all students must complete WELL 101. These are wellness topics and a course that allows students to build on their WELL 100 knowledge and dive deeper into the wellness topic of their choosing.

Then our third piece is within the first 6 weeks of the third semester of enrollment, or, for transfer students, we want them to complete it in their first semester, is our WELL 102. This is a Bystander Education Program, which is online and focused on sexual misconduct prevention education and being an active bystander across our campus. This course also builds on the Bystander education provided in WELL 100.

So really our peer instructors support the professional instructors, and serve as mentors to our students. The first year students see someone who is similar to them, and they respect their points of views. We can only hope that these relationships will grow and foster a sense of community across campus!

Serena: So I love that approach to wellness for college students. I can think back to when I was a first year college student and how helpful that would have been, something like that. And I also have a child who’s in college and, yeah, I think this is something that all schools should have.

Tina: Well and it’s not just a one off, right? I mean this is a very comprehensive program that seems to really, again, it’s not just a, here’s one thing to do and see you later. I love it. I love the peer education. I love all the components.

Heather: Yes, we’re very intentional, very very intentional about bringing the education and prevention efforts to our students. And also with the organization and training part, those peer instructors that do facilitate with the professional instructors in the Well 100 courses. So we’re so fortunate to have this requirement.

Serena: Yeah. And, our interview would not be complete if we didn’t mention a very special friend who works at the Well-being Center. This may be a furry friend?

Heather: Yes, that is true! He’s our most popular employee and our very own Health and Well-Being facility dog, Emmett!

Our Emmett is an almost four-year-old labradoodle owned by Kathy Harvel, who is a Student Health Center Registered Nurse, within the Health and Well-being Unit.

You know, Emmett is super popular. He spends his Wednesdays once a month at the spa getting a little self-care. Where’s Emmett today? Emmet works Monday through Friday during the hours ranging from 8am to 5pm. His office is located at the Welcome Desk of the Well-Being Center and he also helps out at various campus-wide events. We have many visitors who stop by the Well-Being Center specifically for cuddles with Emmett! Students cannot bring their pets to campus, and FaceTime just isn’t the same as humans, so Emmett can be their pet away from home!

And really, facility dogs are expertly trained dogs who collaborate with a facilitator working in a health care, visitation or education setting. And we are just so thankful and lucky to have Emmett who is our very own facility dog that can provide a comfort and positive environment for all of our campus.

Feel free to follow Emmett on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/emmettofurwellbeing/ for his latest adventures!

Tina: That’s awesome. I personally snuggle him every time I see him. He’s just such a lovable, amazing dog. And I cannot say enough. Seriously, I cannot say enough. I’ve been so excited about this interview. And the reason I’ve been so excited to shout this out to the world is, this should be everywhere. It should not be our little secret, right? It should be everywhere. So if people from other institutions want to know more about your particular model, how might they find out about it and contact you?

Heather: Oh, sure. I am always so happy to share with others what we are doing here at the University of Richmond! Please feel free to contact me directly. My contact information can be found on the contact us section of our UR Well website which is also another great resource. So it’s https://urwell.richmond.edu/. You can find more information about everything that I’ve talked about and really dive deeper into our new Well-being Center, the Health and Well-Being Unit, and all of our programs. And I have to say as a mom of a ten and eight year old, I now know some little pieces of what I will look for when my children are ready to take that next step into college and wellbeing is definitely going to be something that I’m going to ask questions of and dive deeper into the programs that their respective universities offer.

Tina: Yeah. And so much of even high school now is focused on achievement, achievement, achievement and this is just a crucial part of success. So our interview would not be complete, and I’m going to circle back to something you said earlier without asking you this one question. You do so much for so many people. You are…no one’s on video here but I’m telling you Heather always has a smile on her face and it is the most genuine, welcoming smile ever. You’re always upbeat and I’m just curious what, to circle back to you try to do one intentionally positive thing every day. What do you do to take care of yourself?

Heather: Well, I surround myself… And first of all, thank you. Thank you Tina. But you know I really surround myself with those that lift me up and support me! So that’s my husband, my children, my friends, my colleagues, my Health Promotion Team, and my running friends! I have learned that I cannot be all things to all people, so I focus on what I can control, and what brings me joy!

Serena: Mmm. Yeah, so Is there anything we haven’t asked you today that you might want to put out there to the world?

Heather: Oh, yes. I can think of two things. The first being a thank you to all the University of Richmond campus partners and Health and Well-Being Unit members for their dedication, support and collaborative efforts towards campus well-being in the past, the present and what will be in the future!

And the second is the idea that well-being is a journey! No one road is the same for everyone! My final thought would be to find well-being practices that make your heart smile! This is when personal well-being practices can then become contagious to others, because they see your positivity, and such practices become part of your own daily living!

Tina: That’s awesome. Heather, I am so very lucky to have met you here on campus and I am truly grateful for everything you do with your team to help our community stay well!

Heather: You both are amazing people! You do great work spreading mental and emotional health awareness, love, and positivity! Thank you for this opportunity today to share with friends around the world! I am honored to have met you both!

Tina: Yes. We are UR, right Heather?

Heather: We are UR.

Tina: And so podcast friends, we are, as always, grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leaving us a review, subscribing and please share with others. You will find more content on our website, NoNeedtoExplainPodcast.com. You will also find an email address and we would love to hear from you by email.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks again for listening!

Serena: Bye!

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