Wellness Program Celebrating Real Meaning of Wellness for 20 Years
Illinois Wesleyan faculty and staff take part in an aerobics class in the early 1990s.
August 19, 2010
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Be well. Hope you are well. Wish you well.
Wellness is something we desire for others and ourselves, but what does the concept
of wellness truly mean? It is a question the Illinois Wesleyan University Wellness
Program has explored for 20 years.
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“Wellness is more than just the absence of disease,” said Missy Smock, director of
the Wellness Program since 1990. “It’s all part of the equation of well-being.” For
Smock, that means helping those at the University to strike a balance in life and
work, and deal with the forces – such as stress, food, finances – that can tip a person
out of balance.
“Wellness is more than exercise,” added Smock, “and wellness programs are more than
aerobic classes.” In fact, there were several aerobic classes offered at Illinois
Wesleyan in 1988, but the Wellness Program did not begin on campus until 1990 when
Smock came to IWU as the first director. “There was a lot of pressure to make this
work,” said Smock. “What the University wanted – and I wanted – was to see a program
geared toward overall wellness, building on that fitness program.”
Smock jumped in, offering new activities on campus, from classes in Aikido to Indian
cooking. “Our Indian cooking instructor brought yoga to campus for the first time,”
said Smock, who also invited a tai chi instructor to hold free classes on the Robert
S. Eckley Quadrangle that were open to the public.
The new activities caught on quickly. “This is an academic institution, so I sensed
there would be an openness to offering a variety of programs,” said Smock, who noted
the early 1990s was a time when many wellness concepts accepted today were still considered
on the fringe. “I was doing a commercial for a wellness program just before I came
to IWU, and the director stopped filming and asked if I would not say the word ‘meditation,’
because it sounded like something that was attached to a cult,” she said.
While she battled the image of wellness off campus, back at IWU, Smock battled her
own impatience for the Shirk Center to be completed. “We were holding classes in the
basement of what is now Hansen,” said Smock. When Shirk opened in 1994, the facility
meant new equipment, rooms for classes, and the establishment of the Wellness Center
on the main floor.
Throughout the 1990s, Smock and fellow Wellness employee Michelle Hart explored different
ideas for the Wellness Program. One that was tried – and dismissed – may come as a
surprise. “We no longer run traditional incentive programs,” said Smock, who initially
sponsored competitions to lose weight and exercise. The results were initially strong,
but not for the reasons Smock hoped. “What we found was that with incentives, people
focus on the short-term goals only,” said Smock. “Often, when the incentive goes away,
the behavior goes away as well.”
“I really think Missy has done things right,” said Jeremy Spencer, who replaced Michelle
Hart in the Wellness Center in 2006. “She learns and progresses and adapts the programs.
I had the same concerns she did when I was working in fitness. That we were only focusing
on short-term outcomes as opposed to long-term health.”
Suneeti Chitgopekar teaches an Indian cooking class for the Wellness Program.
Smock began to examine other cultures for ideas of wellness. She decided to pull her
discovered ideas together into a Wellness Fair that started in 1997. As the years
went on, the fair expanded as Smock explored the link between health and the environment.
“I was reading more and more about different toxins in the environment and the concept
of ‘body burden,’” said Smock. Six years ago, the fair, which is held in Shirk Center,
came the day before the local Ecology Action Center held their annual expo. “People
came on the wrong days for each event because the themes were so closely tied,” said
Smock. “I went to [then Ecology Action Center Director] Michele Covey and said, ‘I
think we need to get our events married.’” The Illinois Sustainable Living & Wellness
Expo was born. “It’s all about sustainable living, from energy consumption to healthy
eating,” said Smock of the expo, which offered more than 100 exhibitors and 20 presenters
at the 2010 event in April.
Today, more than 75 percent of the faculty and staff on campus take part in some aspect
of the Wellness Program, whether it is receiving the monthly newsletter on healthy
living, participating in health screenings, competing in healthy cook-offs, borrowing
CD’s on relaxation from the Wellness Center, or taking a class. “We try to keep things
exciting,” said Smock, who noted the addition of new classes like Zumba, and Spencer’s
work with triathlon training.
The next step for Wellness will come this fall as the joint childcare facility opens for employees of Illinois Wesleyan, Illinois State University and Advocate
BroMenn Healthcare. “People might not think of child care as important to overall
wellness, but it goes back to finding that balance in your life and work,” said Smock,
who served on the Child Care Committee. “People have to figure out not only how to
do their job, but how to have a life outside the University.”
Spencer agreed that Wellness and work go hand in hand. “We’re not taking responsibility
for ‘fixing’ anyone. Instead, we’re helping them work from the inside out,” he said.
“And it’s pretty incredible that a place where you work helps you think about that.”
Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960