New program First Thing’s First set in motion

September 9th, 2010

First Thing’s First is a new program which challenges John Carroll University students to make mental health a top priority. The new initiative aims to provide opportunities that focus on physical, spiritual, social, emotional and intellectual wellness. First Thing’s First will reach out to JCU students, and will institutionalize self-care.  

Evolving from a grant given to JCU following last year’s fall semester, the Xavier-Nichols Foundation is a family-run organization, which awarded $100,000 to JCU to focus on student wellness.

According to Vice President of Student Affairs, Mark McCarthy, members of the XNF met with the Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J., after the fall semester to offer a grant to JCU. 

“[XNF] came to JCU interested in helping and wanted to give a gift,” said McCarthy.

The Foundation was interested in the health and welfare of the students.  According to Mary Ann Hanicak, assistant to the vice president for student affairs, this grant is the basis for First Thing’s First and its overall philosophy. 

“[First Thing’s First] is concerned with wellness initiatives, encourages positive interactions and communications.”

Assistant Director of Recreation and member of Xavier-Nichols Programming Team, Courtney Farver said that the program is focused personally on JCU students. 

“First Thing’s First is a Xavier-Nichols Programming Team philosophy and overall initiative provoking the JCU community to take care of themselves while reflecting on their daily priorities,” Farver said.

First Thing’s First has various programs to emphasize JCU student wellness. Speedbumps is a reflective message sent via e-mail to students during the school year. Campus Ministry sends out an e-mail so students can benefit from Speedbumps free of charge.

JCU now provides reflection rooms around campus.  There is a room located in the basement of Dolan, the second floor of Pacelli, and in the Sutowski Chapel. Reflective meditation sessions, by Campus Ministry, will be offered in Murphy and Sutowski Chapels and in Pacelli’s meditation space every Monday at 9 p.m.

The recently renovated spaces in Campion and Hamlin Halls will host Wednesday night yoga and mindfulness meditation. These sessions will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. and will alternate weekly between yoga and meditation.  The next yoga session will be Sept. 15 and the next meditation session will be Sept. 22.      

Residence Life Cinema will be showing movies and flashing messages between films, which promote healthy lifestyles and decisions.

The Student Health Center will send e-mails encouraging wellness and ways to practice healthy living, particularly regarding physical health.

The Health and Wellness Fair will take place later in the fall semester, and Mental Health Awareness Day will take place in the spring semester.  

Relaxation and mindfulness classes, as well as yoga classes, and massage therapy will be offered in residence halls during finals week.  

Active Minds is a new program to challenge preconceived ideas of mental health and wellness. This group was started by JCU students, Rudy Donatelli, Meghan Everett, Meredith Kramer and Kyle Ferstle. Over 127 students are involved on the “Active Minds–JCU Chapter” Facebook page. 

As grant administrator, Hanicak said, “I created the Xavier-Nichols Programming Team (XNPT), consisting of a number of administrators from the Division of Student Affairs to work on spiritual and mental health initiatives for students.”

According to Hanicak the team had a retreat in the summer to plan for fall programming.

Hanicak said they asked, “Who are we as a team? What are our goals? And how can we best serve JCU students?”

“Our goals are to provide spiritual and mental health on campus, to reduce anxiety, and increase spirituality and mental health,” Hanicak said. 

Hanicak added that students need to “take time everyday to collect and reflect.”  

As the JCU freshmen arrived they heard not only JCU’s mission, but the mission of First Thing’s First as well. 

“You cannot truly take care of others if you do not take care of yourself,” Hanicak said.

The team made 2,500 bracelets, which have been passed out to the freshman class, First Thing’s First mentors, and even the Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J., carries one around. 

The mentors consist of large student groups. 

“RAs and certain student leaders have been trained. We will be looking at student athletes and other large student groups, and then we will look on involving the general student body,” Hanicak said.

First Thing’s First is not a program that will only last throughout the academic year.

“We are trying to institute these things so they just don’t go away,” said Hanicak.

More information can be found through e-mail, flyers posted in residence halls and academic buildings, and in the weekly e-newsletter from your mentor.