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Wellness on Campus: GCC Takes Care of the Whole Student, with Your Support

Did you know that in addition to the Greenfield Savings Bank Math Studio, the Sandri Science Studio, and the Humanities Studio, GCC has a Wellness Studio?

Did you know that in addition to the Greenfield Savings Bank Math Studio, the Sandri Science Studio, and the Humanities Studio, GCC has a Wellness Studio?

Perched above the library, on the fourth floor of the Core, students can use the studio as a quiet, restful space that encourages mindfulness and provides solitude away from the intense pace of college life. Visitors will find yoga mats, blocks, blankets, meditation cushions, relaxation CDs, a zen garden and more.

“Many of our students live complex lives. They need a place where they can just be and check in with themselves. It’s a place to stop, breathe and practice mindfulness,” explains Kathleen Keough, Learning Support Counselor.

The studio is part of GCC’s Morton A. Slavin Wellness Center, also home to the Office of Disability Services and the Office of Counseling Services, which was created through the generosity of the family of GCC founder and long-time supporter Mort Slavin.

Disability Services supports students living with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, ADHD, mental illness, low vision/blindness, deafness and traumatic brain injury. Colleen Caffery, Coordinator of Disability Services, works with each student one-on-one to remove obstacles that could keep them from fully participating in their education.

“Especially for new students to the college, in their first semester they often feel like they are taking a whole extra class called learning how to be a college student. So we help them adjust their course loads or access support and accommodations, so they can be successful,” says Colleen.

That might mean assistive technologies (demonstrated by one of the Center’s helpful work study students), testing accommodations (more time or an environment with fewer distractions), coordination with faculty to ensure classroom learning is accessible, or short-term counseling to address anxiety. Students who need help with study strategies are connected with Peer Tutoring or with Cindy Kunz, Learning Specialist. “Cindy is phenomenal at helping students break down tasks and get organized,” says Colleen. “After just three or four meetings they are off and running.”

“Because of GCC’s open access policy, we see more students with challenges here than at colleges with greater or different entrance requirements,” Colleen explains. “Some of these students were treated in high school like they were not ‘college material.’ For some, if there were not a community college here, they would not be going to college. Some thought, ‘Maybe I’m not good enough. I don’t have what it takes.’ But with the right accommodations, they find out they really do. We have a special responsibility to make sure their need for access is met.”

In the Counseling Services Office, Kathleen addresses the stress and conflicts that may distract students from achieving their full potential, offering supportive short-term counseling and, when needed, helping students coordinate with outpatient behavioral health resources in the community so they can get the help they need.

“We see positive change all the time,” she says, “We offer support to students in distress and help them access supports at the college or in the community so they can address whatever is getting in the way of their academic success. For many, that’s all it takes for them to move forward.

Prior to the creation of the Wellness Center, Disability and Counseling Services staff had worried that their department names didn’t fully fit their mission. They were concerned about the stigmas attached to disability and mental health and worried that students were being deterred from seeking help. They were also trying to serve students in a sterile and cramped set of offices that didn’t feel welcoming. They knew that their broader mission was to work to reduce stigma and to address student well-being more holistically, so they advocated for a name change and an office “makeover.”

Mort & Sue Slavin

Mort & Sue Slavin

With the generosity of the Slavin Family, the space was renovated and the new Wellness Center was dedicated in 2018. The updated space has a welcoming reception area, where Administrative Assistant Carol Leary makes everyone feel at ease. There are separate offices for Counseling, Disability Services, and Learning Specialist support. The Wellness Studio is accessible at the front of the suite, where students can step in and out as needed. The walls are painted in soothing blues, greens and yellows and hung with intriguing pieces of student art. It’s now an inviting space, conducive to a sense of calm.

“It’s been working,” says Kathleen. “We’re seeing more students as word is spreading that this is a good place to come for assistance, support or just some time alone.” Counseling Services served over 200 students this past academic year, and Disability Services served 392 students—up about 10%.

Outreach to students has become an increasingly important part of the mission to reduce stigma and normalize conversation about mental health issues. Each month the Center conducts outreach around campus or presents workshops on mental health, recovery, eating disorders, self-care and other issues—often in collaboration with local community health organizations.

As Kathleen shares, “The world has become much more complex. Nationally, we know that student suicide rates are going up. Research has shown that anxiety and depression are the number one mental health challenges reported by college students. Alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder are also reported. As stigma around issues related to mental health decrease, students become able to share their challenges more openly, and therefore can better access the help and supports they need to thrive.

“I think I have the best job on campus,” smiles Colleen. “What could be more rewarding than helping students get what they need to succeed?”