Academics. Financials. Loneliness. Students commonly experience a variety of stressors in the college environment, but so do faculty and staff who also make up the UCCS community.
CREATE, which was launched this semester by the Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience, stands for Cultivating Resilience and Empowering Adaptation Through Expression. This program offers faculty and staff the chance to connect with one another while engaging in free arts and crafts workshops, support groups and other group activities.
The program began with a support group in Fall 2020 but evolved over the next year and took shape in Fall 2021 with more activities. In addition to the Grief Warriors support group, CREATE has offered watercolor painting, cooking, soap making and nature walks.
Lisa Decker, a UCCS alum, clinician and clinical research professional at the Lyda Hill Veterans Health and Trauma Clinic, worked with VHTC Director Kathryn Dosch and fellow clinician Erin Fowler to develop the program.
“Experiential activities is kind of the cornerstone of the program. We don’t want to just disseminate information, we want people immersed in experiences,” Decker said.
According to Decker, CU funds were allocated during the pandemic to meet mental wellness needs among staff and students, particularly as campus reopened. “There was a big need to recognize that people were highly stressed, had sustained numerous losses and were feeling disconnected,” she said.
“The goals really are to take what we know about what helps build or rebuild a sense of resilience, what’s going to help decrease the experience of stress. We know that helping people prioritize self-care and connecting them … is really important,” Decker said.
From there, the CREATE team developed the idea to partner with community artists and other university bodies, according to Decker. For example, the Center for Active Living has supported outdoor programming, such as the nature walks series.
“Almost all the workshops are coming away with something, so that’s really neat, something tangible. Like with the soap, they get to go back and cut the soap a week later, and they can share it with each other if they want. They could potentially come back with 10 different kinds of soap and do what they want with that. You get to bring your canvas back from the watercolor class, some of the food from cooking,” Decker said.
According to Decker, CREATE has seen a strong positive reception. “What we have found is that within 24 to 48 hours of launching an event, it’s full. It’s in huge demand, and we’re just limited by resources, funding support, the ability to support the program,” she said.
Participants have reported positive feedback via post-event surveys. “People comment about how much stress they’re carrying right now and that these opportunities allow them to focus on self-care and at the same time they’re enjoyable and fun. They find that they’re meeting new people, they’re connecting with people that they didn’t even know worked here, for example, [and] that it’s refreshing,” she said.
“The most recent comment is that it was ‘soul-watering,’ that came from the soapmaking class,” she added.
Given the high level of interest in the program, CREATE will add more experiences to its catalog in the spring, including a two-part introductory digital photography class in January.
“It’s an opportunity to learn some techniques and ways of interacting with photography that can take it up a little notch and make you feel like you’re not so much a beginner anymore, and I think it would be helpful for probably more advanced folks as well,” Decker said. “And then the following weekend, they get to practice between in the week and come back and meet with the artist to get some feedback, interact with everybody and come away with something.”
Decker said the program hopes to offer further activities involving pottery-making, musical expression and acupressure, in addition to bringing back experiences that were popular this semester. She is also planning a GRIT workshop, in which participants will engage with the Greater Resilience Intervention Toolkit to learn skills to support others around them through stressful times.
There are no plans to extend CREATE to students through the Lyda Hill Institute, according to Decker.
“Not to say that students wouldn’t benefit from this type of initiative, but students also on our campus have access to lots of resources and opportunities for engagement with their campus clubs and different groups and intramural activities and intramural sports. There’s a lot of things that are available to try to help support connection and community engagement and help with interests,” Decker said.
“The art piece is probably a little bit of a spin on this, and it is super fun to realize how healing and invigorating arts and creative expression can be. I think the future possibilities are really just limited by funding and resources, because we’re learning that these are in high demand and they’re having a huge impact, which is super rewarding for me to watch the program grow and be so well-received,” she said.
CREATE’s final programming of the semester offered in-person and virtual yoga to faculty and staff on Dec.17.