For Lyons Central School District, which has about 225 employees, finding ways to engage staff in wellness activities can be a difficult task. But for the past nine years, the trio of Rita Wlodarczyk, Robin Cinelli and Jill Harper have been up to the challenge as the district’s wellness committee co-chairs.
“We have approached it by trying to do a variety of things to engage different groups of people,” Cinelli says.
That has included things such as yearly biometric screenings and flu clinics, as well as a health fair eight of the past nine years.
They also created Wellness Wednesdays, during which once a month they share wellness information with staff, as well as a healthy snack.
They have also organized district participation in the Chase Corporate Challenge, a book review, cooking and financial wellness classes, and yoga sessions.
“Biggest Loser”-style events have been held, as well, for the staff to encourage healthier lifestyles, and a community walking program, in which the buildings were open to the public during the winter months so people could walk in the hallways.
The committee even began to bring masseuses to the schools for the staff on Wednesdays.
But after nine years together, the trio will be losing one of its members, as Wlodarczyk is set to retire.
“She is the role model of wellness and is very passionate about it,” Cinelli says of Wlodarczyk. “She is an inspiration to our district to be healthy.”
For Wlodarczyk, it has been a lifelong passion.
“Wellness is a big passion of mine,” she says. “I work out a lot, and I always have — even before I was on the wellness committee. I’ve always done some sort of exercise class and tried to eat right.”
When Wlodarczyk was younger, she says she loved cross country skiing, kayaking and hiking. Over the years, she’s climbed a few mountains, too.
“Walking, though, is probably the first thing I started to do for exercise,” she says. “I’d go down to the track at our school, and there would be another lady there. I didn’t know her, but we’d pass each other on the track. Finally, we got to talking, and we ended up becoming friends.”
After that, it started working out that they would walk together.
“When you know somebody is depending on you to be there, you go,” she says. “This person was depending on me, and I was depending on her. So, it got to be a daily thing. I was probably doing between five and six miles every morning with her.”
Then, when the school district constructed a weight room back around 2000, she started using that.
“For 17 years, I’ve been going to that three times a week,” she says.
To Wlodarczyk, wellness means something different to each individual person. For her, it is more than just exercising and eating right.
“I think it’s a mindset,” she says. “If you feel good about what you’re doing, I think you’re well.”
Wlodarczyk says she was excited to join the wellness committee nine years ago. Over the years, she says a lot has worked.
“One time, we were able to have a half-day wellness [event],” she says. “We were able to have a lot of different things set up for people to choose from, and we got so much positive responses from the staff.”
The thing that was most well-received was a hypnotist.
“The whole staff went,” she says. “People just loved it. They laughed, and it was one of the best things we could have done. I think that was one of the biggest hits.”
Cinelli and Wlodarczyk both say they believe incentives help attract staff to participate in wellness events or activities.
“Having that FLASHP funding has really helped a lot, because we can offer programs and an incentive if they participate,” Cinelli says.
She pointed to the biometric screening as an example in which employees who participate will receive a blanket.
Wlodarczyk recalls a walking challenge that the committee once did that involved giving out step counters to those who participated.
“I think we got like 80 people who participated,” she says. “That’s probably the most participation we’ve ever had in any one thing we’ve done.”
Now, after 30 years in the school district, Wlodarczyk is retiring.
“It’s been very rewarding,” she says of working in the school district. “I was able to be here while all of my kids were in school. That was the No. 1 best thing. And we have a really good, easygoing staff.”