College offers counseling, free lunch to help staff and students navigate the pandemic

Despite the challenges, students can typically book an appointment with their counselor in less than a week. Photo credit: Dalton Elliott

It’s undeniable, the last two years have been a challenge. From emotional to mental, there have been points of struggle, doubt, fear, anxiety and depression. The question is, how is the struggle being addressed among students and faculty? 

A few key people on campus have the roles of looking out for faculty and students, and they’re trying to help.

Esther Sexton, department chair of counseling said winter term has been busy and challenging.

“One of the primary problems that students are running into when they access counseling services right now is technology stuff happening,” said Sexton. “We’re not back on campus, and our staff is smaller, and the mental health symptoms that we’re seeing are more severe. So the intensity level is higher now.”

Sexton said visits were down at the beginning of the pandemic but are climbing back up.

“We’ve done 106 appointments in the last month, that’s a lot,” she said. “Pre-pandemic, in the fall 2019, I believe we did just over 300 appointments. So we’re only halfway through the term and we’re pretty close to that, kind of where we would be in pre pandemic.”

Sexton said that despite the challenges, students can typically get an appointment set up in less than a week. 

“Occasionally if there’s someone that has a very tight schedule,” she said, “then we can see someone on a specific day, or if they’re looking for a really specific service and perhaps we only have one clinician that has expertise in a specific area, some folks wait a couple of weeks for that, but most of the time you get an initial appointment.”

Sexton said that given that counselors are on campus, they have intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be a student.

“We can help with academic stuff and with mental health stuff,” she said.

When it comes to CCC employees, the college is also trying to help. The college’s Center for Teaching and Learning held a workshop in February for faculty burnout. The college also received a $10,000 grant from the Oregon Education Association to address educator health and well being.

What did CCC staff want? Care packages and lunch. On March 1, the college is hosting a free lunch outside the Wacheno Welcome Center, one of the first potentially large in-person events since the college closed down in March 2020.

Tracy Nelson and Michelle Baker, who run the staff wellness program for CCC, have been working together on the program for around seven years. 

Pre-pandemic they would hold in person ”lunch and learns,” wellness fairs and even bi-weekly chair messages for the staff. 

Tracy Nelson works as an athletic instructor and helps run the staff wellness program for CCC. Photo courtesy of Tracey Nelson.

Since restrictions have come around, they’ve had to adapt, including moving to virtual lunch events that include the chance to score a free lunch from DoorDash. 

They still send out weekly emails to staff members that have signed up for the staff wellness program, sharing information about different areas of health, both physical and mental. One thing they have started with being more virtual is different challenges every term to encourage participating in healthy habits, with a prize for the top winners at the end of the term. 

Nelson said participation has remained steady through the pandemic. “We’d love to have more people involved,” said Nelson. 

Baker said it is more important than ever to make sure we are treating each other with respect and kindness, as we don’t know what someone is dealing with, whether it’s a student or faculty member.

“Everyone’s going through the same things or wondering how to get back to where things are going to be like, for the future,” said Baker. “Just having patience with one another, as we move forward, it’s good.”

Katie Skibba