ASHEVILLE, NC – January 18, 2023 – The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the mental health and well-being of college students, faculty and staff at colleges while bringing its importance to the foreground. In response, a health promotion program, called the Student Health Ambassador (SHA) program, was created more than a year ago to provide education and support locally. The program was led by the University of North Carolina Asheville (UNCA) and involves Brevard College, Mars Hill University, Montreat College, Warren Wilson College and Western Carolina University.
The project has been funded by 2 grants from the Dogwood Health Trust private foundation. The initial grant for the 2021-2 academic year was nearly $490 thousand. The most recent grant for this academic year is for almost $175 thousand. Dozens of students have served as public health ambassadors at the 6 college campuses. The program is run jointly by the NC Center for Health and Wellness (NCCHW) at UNCA and the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC).
The program uses peer support, peer education and other outreach methods to promote student health. It started out by teaching best practices for reducing the spread of the coronavirus. During the height of the pandemic, the student ambassadors were involved in COVID testing, delivering meals and providing human connection to classmates in quarantine and isolation. Sometimes, this meant hand-written notes and at other times workout guides. Now the program has to deal with the after effects of the lockdowns on campus and the disruptions in learning. The mental and emotional health of students, faculty and staff have been impacted by isolation. As told to the WNC magazine last month, Amy Lanou, executive director of the NCCHW at UNCA, said that the program will “support the achievement of each individual’s full health potential, build resilience, and support well-being among students, employees, and their communities.” In addition, health disparities in the adjacent communities will be addressed.
The new grant will fund a new Community Health Needs Assessment for each of the 6 college campuses. This will be known as the WNC Collaborative Network for Campus-Community Peer Support and Health Education project. By using the surveys, the SHA will be able to better prioritize the community’s needs and address any gaps.
The SHA program will continue to support the student’s mental health and well-being through health promotion and public health endeavors such as building community resilience and expanding the workforce.
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Contact: Dr. Dick Needleman, Health reporter, 103.3 AshevilleFM, firstname.lastname@example.org