Student mental health gets a hand up

Student mental health gets a hand up

Donors help students access anxiety-reducing fitness program

With retirement in sight, Russ (Petroleum Engineering Technology ’98) and Candace Scruggs knew they wanted to donate to a program or initiative that spoke to them personally. They wondered, “Are there things we can support that fall through the cracks?”

When they learned about NAIT’s Mind, Body, Connect, a fitness program geared to help students struggling with mental health, it resonated with them. With a background in fitness training and aerobics, Candace knew the important role of fitness in relieving stress.

“You just feel better physically and mentally,” says Candace. “I think you can handle stress better after getting rid of some tension.”

The pilot program launched during the winter 2017 semester to help students who are feeling overwhelmed and experiencing anxiety manage their symptoms through physical exercise in small groups with a personal trainer.

 “I found out that the gym can be the most intimidating thing for some people,” says Russ. “With students being able to access facilities at a different time of day or get one-on-one training in a private room, maybe they will become clearer and the things that were bothering them aren’t so troublesome.”

The couple agreed that they would step forward with a donation to grow the program and help students feeling overwhelmed or stressed during their studies. 

Connecting body and mind

When Klara, a Bachelor of Technology in Construction Management student first arrived at the  Mind, Body, Connect class, she was surprised to see fellow students from different backgrounds and ages.

“Sometimes you can get in the headspace that, ‘I’m all alone,’ when that’s not true. So many people are going through something.”

Over the course of 4 weeks, the group worked with a Certified Personal Trainer twice a week using a personalized workout. The sessions were designed to reduce anxiety while promoting physical activity and to help students understand how to use campus recreational facilities.

Being in a supportive environment and bonding with fellow students helped Klara develop skills to become stronger physically and mentally.

“There’s a multitude of small moments that add up to a positive and strong feeling of, ‘Yeah! I did it. Now, I know I can get through this day.’”

“Pushing through those reps, you didn’t feel that you had the strength to do and you do it. It’s such a great feeling,” she says. “There’s a multitude of small moments that add up to a positive and strong feeling of, ‘Yeah! I did it. Now, I know I can get through this day.’”

After completing the program, Klara and the group received a training routine to continue their progress. They also had the chance to speak to a counsellor and provide an update about how they were feeling. Klara says what she’s learned will have a long-lasting effect on her wellbeing and success.

“Mind, Body, Connect teaches you that you have everything you need within you to overcome every obstacle,” she says. “It can help you build self-love, confidence, courage and understanding to become the best version of yourself and positively impact those around yourself.”

Inspiring others to give

Russ and Candace urge others to find something that compels them to act. Much like Russ became inspired by his father, Keith, who believed in helping others, particularly through his support for his employees. 

“Do something that speaks to you.”

“My dad said, ‘It's not about a hand out, it’s a hand up.’ I believe we can always give hand ups,” says Russ. “It doesn’t matter at what level. Do something that speaks to you.”

When Keith passed away in 2002, the Scruggs family made their first gift to NAIT to support the Woodworking program (a hobby he had enjoyed). Over the years since, they have supported several health and education initiatives, including NAIT’s Culinary Arts scholarships and bursaries..

Candace’s own father, too, believed strongly in giving back to the Salvation Army. The couple hopes by their own actions, it is a tradition that will be reflected in their family. For Russ, giving to NAIT students has a broader impact beyond the institution’s walls.

“Post-secondary brings all of the level of the society up be more nurturing and even better.”

Published on April 15, 2019