One of my favorite parts of managing WellMASS is getting to participate in onsite programs at agencies all throughout the state. I especially enjoy attending agency-sponsored events and conferences that promote and celebrate wellness. Naturally, I was thrilled when I was invited to attend and help plan the Department of Children and Families’ biennial Safety and Wellness Conference, held on October 1 in Marlborough. Safety is a primary concern among DCF employees, given the unique working conditions they often face. Sometimes, when one concern, such as safety, is placed at the forefront, other areas of employees’ jobs and lives – wellness, for example—may get put on the backburner. This is not the case at DCF, however, as the agency strives to be a model of wellness across all of its sites. The Safety and Wellness Conference’s theme was “Be Inspired and Inspire Others,” which speaks volumes about the content presented at the event.
Jack Doyle, the Chair of DCF’s Statewide Security Committee, and Deputy Commissioner Jan Nisenbaum opened up the Conference with remarks on the Department’s commitment to ensuring both the safety and wellness of all of its employees, as well as its commitment to maintaining employee morale. This segued nicely into an incredible keynote address by none other than Boston legend Dick Hoyt. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, you may recognize Dick as a longtime fixture of the Boston Marathon, in which he has competed 31 times while pushing his disabled son, Rick, in a wheelchair. At 73 years old, Dick is an inspiration to anyone who ever felt defeated or like they were incapable of doing something great. Moved by Rick’s desire to compete in a race, Dick took up running (and swimming!) and began a journey that has lasted over 35 years and has taken the two men all across the world to compete in over 1,100 marathon and triathlon events. As someone who has fallen in and out of running over the years, I was motivated to start up again just from listening to Dick’s powerful story. I could go on for days about Team Hoyt and their inspirational message of “Yes You Can,” which had every employee who attended the conference up on their feet several times throughout the presentation. If you are struggling to change your eating or exercise habits, or need some motivation in any other part of your life, I suggest you visit the Team Hoyt website at http://www.teamhoyt.com/.
I thought that I was fully inspired after the keynote presentation, but my inspiration and motivation doubled after listening to the panel presentation that followed on wellness practices at DCF area offices. Well before the launch of WellMASS in March 2012, DCF area offices were starting – and excelling at – their own wellness initiatives. Peer support groups are popular at many area offices, including Taunton, New Bedford, and Chelsea. These groups, led by a social worker and a supervisor, help employees cope with challenging situations they face on the job. Employees do not feel that they have to face stressful situations alone, which does wonders for their emotional wellness. This has translated to “wellness creep” at the area offices, where all-around wellness is celebrated and encouraged. Walking and running are popular at other area offices: the Lawrence office participates in a yearly walk for cancer, and the Van Wart area office offers a running group that is open and accessible to all employees. Gail Parker of the Worcester West office summed up the themes of the panel presentation nicely by touching on the importance of utilizing employee’s talents to increase morale. The more employees feel included in wellness initiatives at the office, the more likely they are to take action steps to improve their own well-being and that of those around them. DCF is truly a model agency for encouraging and supporting wellness practices across the board.
After a healthy lunch – and a one-mile walk around the parking lot with my friend, Wellness Champion Nancy Ayapan, I facilitated a breakout session on emotional eating, which I was surprised to learn is a major topic of concern to many DCF employees (although this makes sense given the stressful and unpredictable nature of their work). I was in good company among the other breakout session presenters, who touched upon important topics such as stress management and relaxation techniques; secondary trauma; and community safety. The planning committee created such an enriching day that provided employees (and me!) with the tools and encouragement they needed to bring the message of wellness back to their sites – and into their everyday lives.