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New mental health initiative to connect wellness programs and student groups together around campus. 

Credit: Julio Sosa

For College senior Ben Bolnick, the idea of creating a new mental health initiative at Penn first came to mind when he was giving his rabbi a haircut.

Penn Wellness, an initiative that’s part health think tank and part umbrella organization, aims to improve the well-being of the student body by uniting student communities and wellness groups to form joint initiatives. With representatives from 27 different student groups, Penn Wellness also works with the Vice Provost of University Life to advertise and promote wellness programs on campus.

The idea behind the organization developed when Bolnick was discussing mental health with his rabbi and they came up with the idea of developing a new branch of Hillel specifically dedicated to the wellbeing of community members.

“We went ahead and created [Hillel Wellness], which had yoga groups, meditation groups and speaker series,” Bolnick said. “At one point I was discussing several ideas with Bill Alexander, the director of [Counseling and Psychological Services]. He told me that communal mental health is a very powerful thing.”

Bolnick then tried looking into expanding the program beyond Hillel by reaching out to various student groups and asking them what mental health looked like in their communities.

“At a certain point it dawned on me that it could be really incredible if we all collaborated and complemented each other,” Bolnick said.

As an associate member of the Undergraduate Assembly, Bolnick pursued this initiative as a UA project and began contacting different student groups and administrators to get them involved and connected.

“The mental health task force found that Penn has many of the necessary resources but they don’t work together so we wanted to create something that students could [use to] find everything they need in one place,” Bolnick said.

On the Penn Wellness website, students can access a calendar with wellness programs scheduled every day, such as free yoga, peer counseling services and meditation sessions, as well as a page consolidating all the emotional, physical, academic and communal services available.

With meetings every other week, disparate student groups also have the opportunity to work together on joint initiatives. For example, Hillel Wellness is working with Nursing Wellness and the Consciousness Club to bring in a speaker on nutrition, and students are also working with administrators to develop an app promoting mental health called Stressbusters.

Bolnick has been working hard since last fall to push this through before he finishes his last semester at Penn.

“Our goals are less about black and white accomplishments and more of a progression ... the whole point of the group is to increase collaboration and encourage people to bring back the conversation to their own communities,” Bolnick said.

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