State College Area School District wellness fair aims to help employees, district

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

That was a joking motto for a group of administrators from the State College Area School District on Saturday who were in a soup cook-off.

But it was all in good fun.

The activity was part of the school district’s first wellness fair, which aimed to help promote physical, mental and financial wellness for its faculty and staff — and their families.

“We think there’s no better way to promote wellness than allowing the staff to be hands on and have fun with it,” said Sandy Emerich, director of human resources for the school district.

Among the competitors were high school Principal Scott “The Lion King” DeShong, who made tortellini soup; Superintendent Dr. Bob “The Boss” O’Donnell, who made a cheese soup; Director of Transportation Van “The Busman” Swauger, who made a beef vegetable soup; and Food Service Director Megan “The Ringer” Schaper, who made wedding soup.

A culinary student accompanied each.

As sophomore Sam Patzkowsky chopped up broccoli, O’Donnell took the pieces and put them in the pot.

“It’s a team effort. There’s no way I’d be able to get this done without him,” O’Donnell said of Patzkowsky, 16, a student in the culinary arts.

“It’s a ton of fun. We’re having a blast,” Patzkowsky added.

Emerich said the idea was sparked last summer by a wellness committee that primarily works with promoting student health. A subcommittee came up with an idea that focuses on staff.

She added that keeping staff healthy helps keep health care costs low, but didn’t elaborate.

“We wanted to do something for our staff,” Emerich said. “We want to encourage health in all aspects, and this is the kickoff to doing that.”

All 1,200 staff and 300 substitute teachers were invited.

“We wanted to make it a one-stop-shop for our staff. It’s not all about physical health, but we want to focus on mental and financial health as well,” Emerich said. “Hopefully, we can find ways to improve for next year.”

About 55 vendors from businesses and organizations in Centre County were present.

While physical therapists at Fit For Play were testing people’s flexibility and movement, Geisinger Health System staffers were educating people on the foods they put into their bodies.

The presentation showed a visual amount of fat and sugar in everyday foods like ground beef, french fries, pizza and soft drinks.

“It puts a lot into perspective for people. Their reaction is usually shocked,” said project manager Kim Auman. “Your body was not meant to have mass amounts of unhealthy food, but anything is OK in moderation.”

One of the key elements Geisinger urges people to do is read labels.

“We encourage people to look at what they put in their bodies,” Auman said.

And for those looking to get a start on their physical well-being, physical therapist Jessica Plunkett said to keep activity simple and to set small goals.

“Don’t bite more than you can chew,” Plunkett said. “Stay consistent, don’t make excuses and set realistic goals for yourself.”