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State safety grant expands program to Gainesville Campus

December 16, 2019

The newly rebranded Campus Recreation & Wellness department at the University of North Georgia (UNG) has double the funds to spend on its programs focused on distracted driving and alcohol awareness for the next fiscal year.

The Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) allocated more than $13,000 to UNG as a participant in the Georgia Young Adult Program, which addresses young adult driver crashes, injuries and fatalities. Awarded in October 2019 and lasting until September 2020, roughly half of the funds will pay to implement programs on UNG's Gainesville Campus in the spring 2020 semester.

"Because of the expansion and growth on our campuses, I thought it was necessary to extend the level of our wellness programs to the Gainesville Campus," said Meri-Leigh Smith, associate director of wellness and health promotion at UNG, who contacted GOHS to request additional funding. "They gave us nearly double the amount as they have in the previous 10 years."

The influx of additional funds means programs during Distracted Driving Week and National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week in the fall and Safe Spring Break Week in the spring will occur on UNG's Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses. For the first time in March, students on the Gainesville Campus will have the opportunity to experience the driving under the influence (DUI) simulator.

"Students can get into a full-size functioning vehicle with a wheel, brake and gas pedal and through virtual reality go through the simulation of drunk driving," Smith said. "The simulator operator then completes a report of all of the laws they broke while behind the wheel."

The funding increase is not the only change to UNG's health and wellness program. Following the unification of Smith's office as health educator with Campus Recreation, UNG implemented a new initiative called Wellness Wednesdays on the Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses. The initiative focuses on implementing eight dimensions of wellness to students.

Each month, students on both campuses may visit the Health Hut and complete a do-it-yourself activity featuring one of the wellness dimensions. The eight are emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, spiritual and social.

"Most of the time people focus on physical wellness and don't realize that they need to be consistent in all of those areas to be healthy," Smith said. "Through our Wellness Wednesdays, we can carry on conversations with students about certain aspects of their well-being while they are doing a do-it-yourself project."

Currently, Smith runs the programs on both campuses. UNG plans to hire a coordinator on the Gainesville Campus who will expand programming and establish the peer health educator program there.

Peer health educators talk openly and honestly with UNG students about sensitive and often personal topics during activities throughout the year. Students can connect with peer health educators at informational booths or interact with them during specific activities during Wellness Wednesdays or Safe Spring Break.

"We can't be there with the students to help them make choices, but we can give them information to make good decisions on their own," Smith said.

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