The third class of Clark State College’s SOAR participants began their mentorship under the guidance of Clark State President Jo Alice Blondin in mid 2019. Almost two years later, their work continues.
SOAR – Serving Our Own through Leadership and Retention – was developed at the Ohio college to facilitate mentoring of faculty and staff on campus and assist them in identifying current and future leadership opportunities that result in personal and professional growth.
Selected SOAR participants – three faculty members and three staff members – must attend meetings, events and complete all program requirements including a unique project.
While determining their project, the 2019-20 SOAR mentees identified the importance of self-care for faculty and staff; soon after, plans for an employee self-care space began.
“After going through many options, we kept coming back to this project,” said Bridget Ingram, professor of early childhood education. “When we first started working on this it was pre-Covid. Our work started with plans for a physical care space on campus and then making it virtual as well. We finished the initial plans right as we transitioned into a pandemic world.”
Clark State’s Virtual Self-Care (VSC) realm officially launched on March 1, 2021.
Ingram said research shows that anyone who works in a service focused profession is at risk of stress, secondary trauma and things that can negatively impact their mental and physical health.
“We wanted to have a space where people could go to decompress, recharge and refocus,” she said. “When we formed the committee to discuss what space should entail…we brainstormed what it should include, especially when a person is tired, worn down, fatigued.”
The group decided on virtual “lounges” where people can connect and utilize a variety of resources.
“We wanted ‘lounges’ that would invigorate people,” said Ingram. “We hope people will use it in whatever way helps them to refocus, recharge and decompress.”
Following months of planning, refining and constructing, there is now a place for faculty and staff to virtually enter a self-care site on Clark State’s Blackboard application. The “lounges” include activity, serenity, motivation, creativity, humor, music & movies, hobbies and even a children’s lounge for parents to access activities for their young family members.
Ingram said there is also a link for group meetings and because it is a “living site,” it will continue to be updated using content provided by faculty and staff.
The next step is preparing the physical care-space on campus slated to be available to faculty and staff beginning fall semester of this year.
“Some of the pieces have been purchased for the space and the location has been identified,” said Ingram. “The vision was to start with a physical space and replicate opportunities, resources, and ‘vibe’ in the virtual space, but the virtual space was completed first due to the pandemic.”
Ingram said the physical-care space will include massage chairs, monitors for access to virtual content, opportunities for music, puzzles for those who are hands-on, essential oils, conversation spaces, textures and lighting.
“People in service professions tend to give a lot to others, but not to themselves,” said Ingram. “We are trying to change the mindset and remind people you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your students and the (college) leadership really supports this. You can’t have a good, strong organization without good, strong healthy people on the front lines. The physical and virtual spaces are living spaces that will continue to evolve.”
Ingram said once a SOAR class solidifies a project, they see it through until there is a plan to sustain it.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Ingram. “This is a vision that’s been around for a while. To have an institution that puts this much energy and support behind something that really is going to bolster the health of the people that work in the organization really says something.”
Blondin said she is proud of this class of SOAR mentees who identified a need, determined a solution and successfully modified their plan due to unforeseen circumstances.
“As part of the higher education community, Clark State always puts student success at the forefront of our priorities, but we must also care for ourselves and each other in order to achieve those goals,” she said. “This virtual self-care space – soon to also be a physical self-care space – will provide a place of respite for our hard-working faculty and staff to take time for themselves and continue to serve students.”