Much like the Master Gardener program but for health, the Ellis County Master Wellness program wants to help you help people.
Open to participants 18 years and older, the Master Wellness program certifies volunteers through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to become community resources on health, nutrition and general wellness so that they may share their knowledge with others.
Danae Hicks, the family and community health agent with the extension service, says the program is open to new enrollees who want to make a valuable contribution to the lives of their friends and neighbors.
“We are planning in January on doing a big recruitment drive,” she says. “January’s when our big state training is. So, we’re trying to spread the word and let people know that if they’re interested in health, or education or wellness — really anything just to better the community and help everyone get healthier — they’re more than welcome to come join us.”
Danae says there are no prerequisites for enrolling in the program. People join who have medical backgrounds as do people with no previous health training at all.
Volunteers pay $75 to enter the program and then attend two one-day trainings at the Ellis County extension office for in-person instruction. Also, volunteers must complete an additional 24 hours of training online.
“It’s just like how to educate well; what is extension about. And it gives them very brief overviews and touches on all the subjects that we can educate on,” Danae says of the training. “So, they can really identify what they’re interested in and what they would really like to touch on so we can guide our programming.”
First-year volunteers undergo a total of 40 hours of training and then commit to 40 hours of volunteering. Afterward, participants in the program go through 10 hours of training and volunteer 20 hours of service annually.
Service hours accrue with every meeting that a volunteer attends and every community Master Wellness program that volunteers participate in. Danae says that one especially devoted Master Wellness volunteer conducts two fitness sessions each week at the Waxahachie Senior Citizens Center.
“It’s a very popular class. We don’t ever expect anybody to jump in headfirst and commit to something twice a week,” Danae says. “I have like five programs going right now, so they’re able to help with any of those to help me if they’re not comfortable going out by themselves.”
Danae says as an example of another service opportunity, a volunteer will soon begin offering a community class on controlling diabetes through stress control techniques, with curriculum that’s created by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Overall, the purpose of the Master Wellness program is to extend the work of the county health agent. Volunteers also support the effort of the Texas AgriLife Extension Better Living for Texans agent who offers nutritional education to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
B.L.T. Extension Agent Jade Edgar says that Master Wellness volunteers can also help her with Title One school presentations during which children learn “about how we can shop better; know what we put in our body. Because if we’re overeating, what are we getting? We’re getting cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes — all the above. So, we address all those issues in the programs that we do.”
Danae says the need for reliable health and wellness information in Ellis County is huge and that volunteers help to relay “accurate, science-based information out to the community because we all know there’s lots of misinformation. It’s very easy to get a Google degree in anything you want and feel like you know everything. So, we want to make sure people are getting actual science-backed information.”
To find out more about the Ellis County Master Wellness program and to enroll, visit the Ellis County Master Wellness web page.