As the community’s college, Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) continually develops creative solutions to ensure higher education is available for all. MCCC’s most recent innovation is its new Wellness Center – a centralized tiered system of wellness resources to help students with the vital essentials they need to succeed.
Joined by local and county representatives and community members, MCCC’s president, Board of Trustees, employees and students celebrated the opening of the Wellness Center in North Hall at the Pottstown Campus on Friday, Dec. 2, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours of the new Center.
“Today is truly a day to inspire, lead, and transform lives and destinies, especially for our students and the communities we serve — words cannot fully express how overjoyed I feel about the opening of the Wellness Center and its myriad benefits for students,” said Dr. Victoria L. Bastecki-Perez, MCCC President. “We believe this innovative Wellness Center will become a model for other higher education institutions to serve the essential needs of their students in this holistic manner.”
From data collected through surveys, MCCC learned that many students were not performing well in their classes because they struggled with a lack of necessities and support for food and housing insecurities, physical and mental well-being, family care and other needs. Using this information, MCCC developed a plan for a tiered system of supportive services, which was endorsed by the College’s Board of Trustees and shared with local and state officials and the community.
In late 2021, MCCC received a $1.1 million Community Mental Health Services Block Grant from Montgomery County. These funds were marked by the State for community colleges to support the higher education of individuals experiencing mental health challenges. The grant provided $1 million for the Wellness Center and $100,000 for MCCC’s existing Partnership on Work Enrichment and Readiness (POWER) program, which has offices in the Center.
“At MCCC, we open the door to higher education for all learners. But sometimes an open door is not enough – we have to remove the barriers that stand in the way of students crossing the threshold and going through that door,” said Varsovia Fernandez, Chair of MCCC Board of Trustees, during the ceremony. “By providing our students with these wrap-around services not only allows them to focus on their studies but also provides them with a sense of belonging.”
Vera Zanders, Deputy Administrator of Adult Mental Health, Office of Mental Health, Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services noted the significance of MCCC’s dedication to student support.
“The recognition and commitment of the College to support students holistically is so important. Students are not just about academics. That’s not who they are. It is part of it, but if you don’t look at the students holistically you will not truly get the full value of them as persons,” said Zanders.
“This model uses a tiered system of holistic care rooted in essential student supports and sustained through core institutional services and strong community partnerships,” said Dr. Nichole Kang, MCCC Director of the Wellness Center.
The newly renovated space has five unique areas that provide a variety of services and programs designed to assist students throughout their academic journeys:
- The Collaboration Room will be used for group-based education, peer support, and group counseling, as well as teleconferencing, virtual presentations, and staff meetings. The multifunctional room can be easily configured for an array of diverse programs.
- The Counseling Room will provide space for a variety of counseling, including face-to-face and/or virtual therapy, and counseling with a local community behavioral health agency. The Wellness Center Manager will be here to assist with scheduling in-person and virtual counseling.
- The Sensory Room is a space to decompress, unplug, and relax. The room has calming lighting and textures, a variety of seating options, and cleanable multi-sensory equipment, comfort objects, fidget toys, etc.
- The Stock Up for Success Food Pantry includes refrigerated and freezer storage, non-perishable foods, toiletries, and household items. In the Café, students can eat, study, and have casual conversation with other students and Student Support staff. Cooking demonstrations and nutrition education also will be held in this space.
- The Student Support Programs Room houses four moveable workstations for several Student Support programs, including Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS), ACT 101 Scholars Program, and Partnership on Work Enrichment and Readiness (POWER) program. Students will be able to meet with staff here on a regular basis.
“The renewal of this space, which was previously four classrooms, was a huge undertaking. As you will see, a lot of consideration for our students’ needs was built into the design, said Kang. “Numerous departments across the College have touched this project over the past year, and we are incredibly grateful to have had so much support in building a culture of wellness here.”
While plans were in development for the Wellness Center, MCCC has taken several significant measures during the past few years to provide additional services for students, particularly when the pandemic hit and amplified the need for additional resources.
MCCC was the first community college in the country to partner with Talkspace in 2020 to offer 24/7 online telehealth services at no cost to students. MCCC also partnered with the national nonprofit, Benefits Data Trust, in 2020 to connect students with services through the PA Benefits Center. Earlier this year, MCCC partnered with TimelyMD to offer free access to 24/7 medical and mental health support through TimelyCare. TimelyCare serves as an extension of campus wellness center resources.
The College also collaborates with Gwynedd Mercy University, Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities, Manna on Main Street, and other county partners in a College Student Basic Needs Program (CSBNP) to help students with food, housing, and other necessities. In March 2022, CSBNP received funding through a Home4Good grant, through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, which directly benefits MCCC students who are struggling with housing insecurity.