Master Wellness Volunteers are helping Granite Staters improve their health

  • Man and two women in food pantry

A s chronic disease and illness impacts healthcare costs and workforce capacity in New Hampshire, there is a significant need to help people take control of their health. One effort currently underway in the Granite State is utilizing volunteers.

UNH Extension’s Master Wellness Volunteer Program trains people who want to build a culture of health in their communities. This includes in areas like nutrition, health equity and disease prevention so they can then volunteer at places like food pantries, schools and community centers.

In 2023, the program’s third year, 40 participants engaged in a six-week core training and 27 of those participants also followed that up with 10-20 hours of education in one of three pathways – food access, Walk with EaseSM or vaccine education.

Extension program manager Zeanny Egea explains that volunteers are currently leading a variety of programs, distributing educational materials and resources, assessing needs and more. “It is very exciting to see how community members want to take action and help their communities in a meaningful way,” she says.

Julianna Schultheis of Grafton County volunteers with the Walk with EaseSM pathway, which is an Arthritis Foundation walking program designed to increase balance, strength and walking pace for overall health and reduce the pain and discomfort of arthritis. She is passionate about making sure people are set up to succeed by staying active and healthy throughout their life. “I was drawn to being able to use some of my skills as a physical therapist,” she says. The program has built her confidence in group settings, and she also sees how it has helped people in her own community. 

Three older adults walking in woods

© Halfpoint - stock.adobe.com

“I hear a lot of people say that they don’t feel comfortable going out by themselves or that they can’t find that motivation to go outside for a walk. I am glad I have this platform to help people to overcome those barriers to stay active and healthy,” she says.

Robert Selfe from Strafford County is involved in the food access pathway. He has long been active with his local food pantry in Newmarket, which is why this program is a good fit for him. “I have learned so much. The biggest thing is I now know where to access reliable information and resources. The advisors have also been super great at getting the volunteers prepared to go out into the community to make a difference,” he says.  

Selfe was able to apply the knowledge and skills from this program to renovating the Newmarket food pantry, which included adding coolers and freezers where people can select their own  food items.  

Susan Friedrich, who is also from Strafford County, signed up for the vaccine education pathway, utilizing her 35 years of experience in the public health industry. She enjoyed the way the program was run. “I appreciated the tone of the training. The instructors recognized that we are volunteers, and they were able to meet us where we were. The general classwork was manageable and was consistent with my interests as well,” she says.  

"It is very exciting to see how community members want to take action and help their communities in a meaningful way.”

Friedrich will visit vaccine clinics and educate people about vaccines. “I will be able to have those important conversations with people that healthcare providers can’t always have. It is an opportunity to be more low-key and have meaningful conversations with the public about vaccines,” she says.  

The Master Wellness Volunteer Program provides deeply fulfilling service opportunities to people willing to make a difference and is positively impacting community health  across the state. 

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