BTW peer educators are here to help

November 20, 2020

Bridge to Wellness (BTW) peer educators are a group of student peer health educators who exist as a resource to promote healthy lifestyle habits and general wellness to all Brandeis students, Nathalie Vieux-Gresham ’23, a BTW peer educator, and director of Health Promotion and Wellness Initiatives Leah Berkenwald ’07 wrote to The Brandeis Hoot in an email interview. 

The group attempts to bridge the gap between individuals and health in whatever form it may look like—whether it be topics surrounding sleep, stress, nutrition, fitness, drug use or any health concerns or questions that may arise in a student’s life. BTW peer educators are committed to impacting their communities in the hopes that healthy and mindful habits can be a part of everyone’s everyday lives. 

Like other groups on campus, BTW and the office of Health and Wellness Promotion (HAWP) had to adjust to the virtual environment due to the coronavirus pandemic. Historically, BTW held in-person events in various locations on campus, but with the introduction of social distancing regulations and other guidelines, it has been challenging for the team to remodel the methods they would typically use to engage with the Brandeis community. 

“We have had to work together to come up with different ideas that simultaneously prioritize everyone’s health and safety during COVID,” they explained. “We have ultimately adapted and enjoyed developing new, creative modes of interacting and engaging with the community. Instead of seeing the virtual aspect of COVID as a setback, we have fully embraced the hybrid environment and are utilizing our skills and abilities to provide supportive online events for students.” 

As a peer health group that presents themself as an open resource, students have looked to BTW to help them adjust to life with a pandemic. To aid students through this difficult transition, BTW encourages students to begin with focusing on their core healthy habits—having a good sleep schedule, healthy eating habits, maintaining good hygiene, practicing self-care and whichever other health habits that are necessary for students to maintain and prioritize for themselves, Vieux-Gresham and Berkenwald wrote to The Hoot. They urge students to understand that the first step of adjusting to any difficult situation is to first take care of themselves and their core habits. 

To aid students with this process, HAWP and BTW have held a series of events surrounding these aforementioned healthy core habits and will continue to do so as the year goes on. 

Although the semester is reaching a close, BTW will continue planning for more events to take place over the long winter break and the next semester, so it’s important for students to stay tuned to whatever may come next from BTW. 

“Although we are trained peer health educators, at the end of the day, we are students as well,” Vieux-Gresham explained. While team members do possess resources and knowledge surrounding various health topics, they are also learning and forming their own healthy habits along the way. 

No one is alone in their health journey and anyone can approach BTW with whatever questions they may have. No matter what kind of questions students may have about health and wellness, Bridge to Wellness is ready and eager to help. 

“We encourage students to engage with us through the activities we hold throughout the school year and on our social media sites,” they wrote to The Hoot. Popular events that they have put together include trivia, drop-in consultations, tabling events and many more, which can be found through @brandeisbtw on Instagram. In addition to information about their upcoming activities, their Instagram page also features plenty of helpful infographics surrounding mental well-being, as well as member introductions, so students can get to know the peer educators better. Followers can also find helpful videos (and even TikToks!) that the BTW members have made surrounding a multitude of health topics, such as sleeping habits or staying physically active. 

The team is split into three committees: group development, social media and programs/events. Each of these committees perform various tasks to engage the community and promote health and wellness, such as producing content for the BTW social media platforms or collaborating with community advisors (CAs) for hall events. 

“Even though we are split into different committees, the entire team is deeply connected through our passion to help others within the Brandeis community,” they wrote to The Hoot. A typical day for a peer educator team member may include a subcommittee meeting, creating content on Canva, leading workshops on various topics and finding other ways they can expand their impact. 

Most importantly, each member of the team makes sure that they practice what they preach. “We engage in healthy habits, and aim to help and educate others daily,” they explained.  

BTW has been working to promote themselves as an open resource for the Brandeis community since its founding through the Health and Wellness Promotion Office (HAWP) in February 2018, Berkenwald wrote to The Hoot. 

Students interested in becoming a BTW peer educator must go through a rigorous and competitive application process, consisting of a written section, an interview section and a mock-presentation section. After the application process, BTW members complete thorough training sessions to prepare them for their role. The trainings are usually in-person; however, due to COVID-19, their training this year were through online modules, Berkenwald explained. These training sessions usually occur over the summer and in the first week of the fall semester, ensuring that peer educators are well versed in the information that they provide to students throughout the school year. 

Students interested in learning more about BTW, HAWP or future events can visit their website or reach out to hawp@brandeis.edu.  

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