Making the Connection

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Coming Spring 2020, Duke Dining, in partnership with the Healthy Duke Physical Activity & Movement working group, will host their third series of  “Making the Connection” to promote healthy lifestyle changes among Duke service workers.

“Making the Connection” is an innovative health and wellness initiative created by the Healthy Duke Physical Activity and Movement Committee, designed to empower environmental and dining service staff to become more fit and to live well. “Making the Connection” began in October 2017 with a series of in-person workshops facilitated by Duke health professionals. Each workshop provides information on useful healthy lifestyle strategies and participants are provided personal health assessments to establish a baseline health status. Participants are divided into teams utilizing results of their health assessments and attend a series of workshops and activities until a follow-up health assessment is conducted to determine which team achieved the most overall health improvement. The team with the most improvement will be recognized and rewarded. Additionally, all participants will be eligible for prizes including access to Duke University's recreation facilities for 5 months. Many of the participants are members of the Durham community which helps connect campus resources to the Community.

Felicia Tittle, Executive Director of Recreation & Physical Education, reached out to Barbara Stokes, Director of Residential Dining, to discuss her desire to promote healthy living with Duke Dining Service Staff.

“There are a lot of things that are specific for students, and there are a lot of things that work for faculty or staff, but not really anything oriented for service workers,” said Stokes. “So, she [Tittle] asked me if I would be interested in doing something specific for them. The idea was to get them [the service workers] to get moving more.”

A schedule of workshops and events provides participants an opportunity to exercise, attend health education sessions, and participate in a cooking competition. Workshop topics include learning about nutrition, Diabetes awareness, exercise classes and heart health. “Making the Connection” is set up as a competition where participants are placed in teams, arranged in a way to ensure an equal opportunity to win, to promote the spirit of competition and for the team members to hold themselves accountable. In order for participants to track their team’s progress, a spreadsheet is posted and updated weekly. Teams are ranked based off of a point system where participants can earn points for their team by going to the gym, walking, performing body weight exercises and/or attending workshops.

“The second time around we [“Making the Connection” committee] sat down and talked about what worked and what do we want to change and then we added a couple of things,” said Stokes.

The purpose of the workshops is to bring in professionals that the service workers can identify with, ultimately leading to positive choices and outcomes with staff members’ lifestyle.

“One of the most meaningful things to me is when I have a staff member come up to me and say ‘this is really great because I can teach this to my kids and grandkids,’” said Stokes.

Teams were able to show off what they’ve learned through the course of the program in a fun and interactive way. Teams created posters, PowerPoints, and even mini smoothies for spectators that came to hear what everyone has learned. One of the interactive activities of the program is the cooking competition. Teams create a healthy meal based upon healthy eating habits that they learned throughout their time in the program. They created a shopping list to go with it as well. There were appointed judges that would score the meals and determine a winner of the competition. Stokes ranks it as one of her favorite activities of the program.

As Stokes and Tittle begin preparing for their third year of the program, Stokes reflects on the past two years and what she has learned from the participants.

“I think this is a great program that we have developed with Healthy Duke and we’re hoping to continue to get the University to support the program,” said Stokes. “I’m really excited to work on the next chapter.”

The program was also included in The Black Communities Conference, a conference to foster collaboration among Black communities and universities for the purpose of enhancing Black community life and furthering the understanding of Black communities. The conference was took place September 9-11, at the Carolina Theater in Durham where Duke University staff Barbara Stokes, Director of Residential Dining, Julia Anderson and James Prince, Duke Dining staff, Felicia Tittle, Executive Director of Duke Recreation and Physical Activity and Najla McClain, Program Director in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion with Duke’s School of Nursing were part of a discussion panel about the “Making the Connection” program.

Stokes said, “The Making the Connection program is about bringing true meaning, understanding and opportunity for fitness and healthy lifestyle to our service staff members.  It's an opportunity to demonstrate how our resources go beyond the walls of Duke University into the community. The positive changes made from participation in the program will ultimately affect friends and  families in the community for generations to come. It's such an honor to be able to share the program with others with the hope that it will make a difference in the lives of others.  I  believe that a healthy community can be achieved if we start and continue to support each other through the process- it really does take a village.”