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MAC Event Tackles Stress

Students munch on berries, enjoy chair massages in afternoon of relaxation

By Cara B. Eisenpress, Contributing Writer

Visitors to the Malkin Athletic Center (MAC) this weekend may actually have left with a few more calories under their belt.

On Saturday afternoon, the gym hosted Thrive 2005, a wellness event co-sponsored by the Community Health Initiative (CHI) and the Undergraduate Council (UC) that focused on strategies for improving mental, physical, and community health.

The event was held in the MAC basketball courts, which were transformed into a carnival-like setup of booths, tables, and activities offering everything from chair massages to food to plants and craft projects.

But the most popular table may have been one featuring nutrition advice and a scrumptious assortment of stress-reducing foods such as strawberries, raisin bread, dried fruit, and nuts.

Students congregated around the table, eating and chatting, in an example of what Anica C. Law ’06, director of CHI, saw as the community-building aspect of the event. “Thrive was held to build community in response to the negative press Harvard was getting in the Globe—and in The Crimson—that Harvard’s community rates low. But it’s also to raise awareness on specific issues,” she said.

Several tables were dedicated to individual health and wellness issues that CHI sought to highlight, including treating depression, coping with stress, and improving sleep habits.

Other tables featured interactive projects to supplement the health tips. Next to the pamphlets on tips for relaxation, visitors could create their own stress balls using balloons and sand, or mix their own relaxation-inducing essential oil combinations, all while waiting in line for a free massage.

Other booths featured crafts projects aimed at building community, such as make-your-own friendship bracelets, or painting tiles to be displayed in a community mural at UHS.

Keli M. Ballinger, the manager of the UHS Center for Wellness and Health Communications and a health tutor in Dunster House, said health information and community-building are symbiotic. “We’re trying to find every different aspect of coming together and we believe that is what wellness is,” said Ballinger, who helped organize the event.

Turnout for the four-hour event surpassed the predictions of Thrive’s organizers, with many students taking time to stop at every booth and enter raffles to win prizes such as an iPod, a hammock, or an hour-long back massage, as they picked up tips for a more healthful lifestyle.

Ryshelle M. McCadney ’07 said she stayed at Thrive, visiting different booths, for two hours. “I didn’t see, hear, or read anything I hadn’t heard before. But it was nice to see people on campus coming together for something healthy, or something that promotes health. I saw people I hadn’t seen in a while.”

While McCadney chatted with acquaintances, Law, the CHI director, bounced from table to table, mingling with visitors and keeping student volunteers organized. “We want to help build a community to support people who are going through tough times,” she said.

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