A grant from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation is boosting East Central Community College’s efforts to create and sustain a culture of wellness on its campuses with a $127,500 grant to support the college’s new Warrior Wellness initiative.

ECCC President Dr. Billy Stewart said Warrior Wellness will contribute to the fulfillment of an important action plan in the college’s 2020 Vision strategic plan, which was adopted in 2013 after input from students, employees and members of the communities the college serves.

“The goal of Warrior Wellness is to make a difference on the ECCC campus and in the surrounding communities by nurturing the development of a culture of healthy living,” Stewart said. “We are grateful to the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation for this tremendous grant to help make the initiation of Warrior Wellness possible.”

“One of the action plans in the Institutional Commitment of Resource Planning and Development in our strategic plan calls for us to promote student and employee wellness initiatives, services and resources that will create a campus culture of health and wellness,” Stewart explained. “The initiatives we implement through Warrior Wellness will help us to further provide a healthier learning environment not only for our students and employees, but our campus visitors and the local communities we serve in our five-county district of Leake, Neshoba, Newton, Scott, and Winston counties.”

The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation grant provides funding for ECCC to make transformative equipment upgrades to the existing wellness center on the Decatur campus, equip a wellness assessment center on campus, and cover costs associated with on-campus Warrior Challenges for students, faculty, and staff; healthy lifestyle nutrition and exercise education and demonstration opportunities on campus and in the communities; outreach to primary and secondary schools in the ECCC district; community events to include walking and running groups, Family Fit and Fun Days, and Kids’ College; and campus master planning to create new spaces for program growth and sustainability.

Crystal Fitzgerald of Little Rock, Miss., was hired in August as the college’s first Wellness Coordinator. She received her bachelor’s degree in exercise science from the University of West Florida, where she played varsity softball. She serves as project coordinator in implementing Warrior Wellness, including planning and carrying out of activities and educational opportunities on and off campus related to fitness, healthy eating and hydration, healthy habits and the overall connection of wellness to the college’s academic mission. She also chairs the college’s Warrior Wellness Committee, which consists of internal members such as campus administrators, faculty, and staff, as well as external members from the local communities.

“Warrior Wellness is not only for our East Central campus community, but also for everyone in the district we serve,” said Fitzgerald. “We are overwhelmed by the response we’ve received to date both on and off campus from people who want to help, to participate and to be healthy.”

Fitzgerald said the college currently is upgrading its Wellness Center located in the Smith Student Union Building and developing a state-of-the-art wellness assessment center, along with other initiatives.

A Warrior Walking Club already has been created with the assistance Dianne O’Neill of Decatur, former ECCC tennis coach and an external member of the Warrior Wellness Committee. The Warrior Walking Club is for walkers and runners who meet at various times at the college’s Dick Livingston Exercise and Walking Trail on the north end of campus.

Other initiatives have already been implemented at ECCC to provide a safe and healthier learning environment for students, employees and campus visitors. On Jan. 1, 2016, East Central Community College became a tobacco-free campus, prohibiting all tobacco products, including smoke-emanating (or electronic) and smokeless products, on all campuses, including vehicles. In addition, healthy eating options are now offered in the college cafeteria and in vending machines on campus.

“The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation is proud to support East Central Community College and the Warrior Wellness initiative in their efforts to provide targeted wellness programs for the staff, faculty, students and members of the community,” said Sheila Grogan, executive director of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. “The research and development they have put forth into this initiative will ensure the programs provide opportunities for individuals to improve their health.”

The Warrior Wellness initiative at East Central Community College is in partnership with the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation is committed to supporting Mississippi's universities and colleges in implementing healthy eating and exercise initiatives that extend from the campus to the local communities and schools. Learn more about the work of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation at www.healthiermississippi.org. More information on the Warrior Walking Club and other Warrior Wellness initiatives can be found at www.eccc.edu/warrior-wellness