In his wildest dreams, Steven Walton never thought he’d oversee a facility that hosted a vaccination clinic.
And yet in the spring of 2021, Creighton University got a request from Douglas County Health. It involved opening up the Rasmussen Fitness and Sports Center as a COVID-19 vaccine clinic each weekend for 13 weeks. “Greg Durham, Lucia Zamecnik and I would alternate shifts overseeing the facility every Saturday, ensuring the clinic ran smoothly and taking care of any facility issue,” said Walton, the assistant director of Competitive Sports at Creighton University. “Mr. Murphy — as in Murphy’s Law — is undefeated.”
Durham, the director of Recreation and Wellness, said they were one of the first vaccine clinics in Nebraska and for many weeks one of the biggest. “The unique thing about this vaccine clinic is it was completely Creighton run, so everything from the folks giving shots to the folks volunteering in the facility was done by Creighton students, and faculty and staff,” he said.
It was a big undertaking. Initially, the team had only a seven-day notice prior to the first shot being administered. And then each weekend they would convert to a clinic and then revert to a fitness facility. Despite the hiccups and lessons learned as they went, the clinic ended up distributing tens of thousands of vaccines. “If you had asked me a year ago, ‘Would we ever have done that?’ No,” said Durham. “But, the pandemic forced us to be resilient and to be pliable and to rise to the call when needed.”
Recreation and Wellness at Creighton University
Durham is one of a team of four:
- Walton, the assistant director of Competitive Sports
- Zamecnik, the assistant director of Fitness and Operations
- Kym Bauer, the administrative assistant for both Recreation and Wellness as well as the Creighton Intercultural Center
Together, they oversee 225 student employees.
At a school with close to 9,000 students, the small team relies heavily on those student employees. As such, this means in-depth trainings and having hard conversations are a must.
“We are not afraid as a professional staff and student leadership team to have those critical conversations with underperforming students. We are making sure we are continuing to develop them,” said Durham. “At the end of the day, students need to be developed because of the skills they learn in our rec center.”
With that kind of mindset, it echoes what Michele Bogard, the associate vice provost for Student Engagement, shared about the overall impact of Recreation and Wellness on campus.
She noted Creighton wants students to have not only an academic transcript but a co-curricular transcript. “We created a framework a few years ago — the Creighton comprehensive student record,” said Bogard. “That is our way to create a co-curricular transcript for our students based on five pillars we really want to engage our students with, one of those being well-being.”
A Focus on Well-being
The well-being engagement has been a honed-in focus for Recreation and Wellness as the department looks to serve the entire campus. Several ways it has come alive is through a couple of creative programs during the past academic year.
Zamecnik shared they began Wellness Wednesdays in the fall of 2020 with a Blender Bike. From 12:30 to 2 p.m., students, faculty and staff could stop by the bike set up on the main drag of campus and ride it for 20 to 30 seconds. It powers the blender on the front of the bike which blends the rider a smoothie. “We provide all the ingredients and make the smoothie,” she said. “It’s been extremely popular over the course of this past year.”
EXTRA CREDIT: Two campus recreation directors share how they have been supporting their staff’s well-being.
Another wellness program that really took off was Free Fresh Fruit Fridays. Anyone entering the Kiewit Fitness Center (KFC) was offered a free piece of fruit. They also were given information about the programs offered by the Recreation and Wellness department. And prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, wellness workshops around themes like sleep, stress, meal prep and nutrition were quite successful.
That wellness exists in partnerships across campus as well. For example, Bogard also shared this year Zamecnik is working with a faculty member to develop a wellness curriculum for first-year students that will hopefully be a required course .
“The Creighton Recreation and Wellness department gives to the Jesuit pillar of Cura Personalis — care for the person,” said Bauer. “We are here to support the physical and mental well-being of our guests whether they be students, faculty, staff, alumni or their family members.”
Creighton University Collaborations Continue
In terms of collaboration and the department’s role on campus, three years ago Recreation and Wellness won the campus collaborator award from the Division of Student Life due to how often it partnered with the president’s office. Plus, the rec center hosts the annual Jesuit luncheon, as well as the large events during New Student Orientation.
Zamecnik noted the biggest area they collaborate with is the Student Leadership and Involvement Center.
“They are a group that can target a large group of students. So, it’s imperative we work together to share what we have to offer and how we can work together on certain programs,” she said. “Ultimately, Recreation and Wellness is targeted to offer our students and faculty/staff an opportunity to de-stress and live healthier, more productive lives. It’s of high importance we can offer quality and enjoyable programs and activities to our university body to educate and create those positive lifestyle changes.”
The main events during the pandemic in partnership with the Student Leadership and Involvement Center that came to mind for Walton were fire pits and root beer in a large parking lot, and the arcade night in the KFC.
All in all, the department has gained a lot of knowledge from the numerous partnerships it has. “I think the biggest thing I learned is a lot of things people ask for may not necessarily be easy or possible in your rec center,” said Durham. “But you have to come into these meetings with an open mind.”
EXTRA CREDIT: There are a few strategies that can be used by all to build effective partnerships and collaborations. Erin Stelma shares them here.
That same mentality is what allowed Recreation and Wellness to step up to the plate when asked to be a vaccine site. During the week, the Rasmussen Center indoor turf field was used for Athletics and club sport practices, as well as intramural games. Every Friday evening a team from Housing and Auxiliary Services came in to assist with setting up the field.
Durham shared it was a lot of floor plans, meetings and reviews in the seven-day window they had to plan for the first clinic. “We didn’t get it right on the very first one,” he said. “But we improved, we tweaked. By the end of it, it was a well-oiled machine.”
But that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s not about getting it right on the first try. It’s about learning and growing. And it’s about being pliable and rising to the call as Durham said.
And that takes a department willing to shift on notice. It takes a team that can be resilient no matter what comes. It means each member has a deep connection with each other that will withstand through whatever storm approaches. “The Recreation and Wellness department is truly family,” said Durham. “Rooted in our Catholic, Jesuit traditions, we strive to meet everyone where they’re at and provide something for everyone. The ability to work hard and play harder keeps our team successful.”