They went around the room sharing their most memorable gifts. The answers ranged from One Direction concert tickets to the gift of time.
This was meeting item No. 1 for the Storm’s Advocates, a College of St. Scholastica student organization that sponsors events like a kombucha bar and massage nights to workshops on personal safety and tobacco cessation, pet therapy and yoga.
Looking at all areas of health is a priority, said CSS Wellness Coordinator Julie Zaruba Fountaine. She leads Student WellU, which promotes campus culture around seven dimensions of well-being: mental, physical, intellectual, spiritual, financial, social and environmental.
And sometimes, support means addressing the basics.
A college health survey reported that 40% of students worry about having enough food, and that in the past year, they haven’t had enough.
“If you’re hungry, you’re not learning, you’re not sleeping, and if you’re not sleeping … it creates a downward spiral,” she said.
Zaruba Fountaine reached out to campus ministry, which has had a food shelf since the 1990s. They changed the name to "Storm’s Cupboard" to help reduce the stigma, and the task force changed from “food insecurity” to “food security.”
Language matters, and it’s better to focus on the solution, she said.
They’ve hosted cooking demonstrations with ingredients from Storm’s Cupboard, they’ve provided tools like can openers and bowls. They purchased a refrigerator, so they can carry fresh produce, which can be challenging.
“It’s a part of well-being. It’s a basic human need: food, water, shelter, love," Zaruba Fountaine said.
Zaruba Fountaine has been working at CSS for 10 years, and her role covers a lot of ground.
She teaches Dignitas, a foundations of student life class. She works with a campus prevention team that looks at substance abuse; she’s a health realization consultant.
Zaruba Fountaine noted students are more aware and vocal about financial hardship, mental health, and equity and justice compared to when she was in school. It’s a perk for her to see them develop over the years.
“The students I work with are dreamers, and that’s so refreshing," she said.
Jacob Adams is an undergraduate in organizational leadership at CSS, and he’s the WellU project manager. He said working in this position was a surprising adjustment from a “buck stops here” management style.
Zaruba Fountaine is very caring, and stern enough in the right areas to keep everyone moving forward, Adams said.
Instead of, “‘Here’s the way it’s going to be because I said so.’ She’ll actually explain it to you and have you on a completely different, more positive track before you get out the door.
“Everybody at St. Scholastica is approachable, and Julie is the face of the culture,” he said.
Along with her work on campus, Zaruba Fountaine carries this work into her community.
She’s on the Duluth Transit Authority board of directors because access to public transportation is important. If you don’t have a vehicle, it can be detrimental to your health, she said.
She has also taught positive psychology classes through Duluth Community Education. The gist: If there’s a tiger in the bush and you react, you may survive. If you ignore it, you’re not going to make it.
“Now our tigers are psychological, and our tigers are things that we focus on,” she said.
Positive psychology is emotional well-being through learned optimism and identifying strengths. We often focus on what’s wrong, which can be helpful to find solutions, but identifying what’s going well is beneficial, she said.
Shivon Miller of Duluth took Zaruba Fountaine’s community ed class. Months later, Zaruba Fountaine taught a series of classes tailored for mothers at Trinity Lutheran Church, where Miller works as Minister of Congregational Life.
Miller at first was apprehensive about positive psychology, but it’s not about pretending something is better than it is, she said. It’s bringing intention to how you frame your thinking.
An example is to always assume positive intent.
When somebody cuts you off on the road, consider they’re in a hurry because they had to get to a child, or they had a really bad day versus assuming they’re trying to cause harm.
The women who attended wanted to learn tools that they could pass on to their children, Miller said. And Zaruba Fountaine created an open, authentic and nonthreatening environment, where you were not afraid to say, “I was really bad at this.”
Zaruba Fountaine really builds people up, Miller said. You can tell she has a passion for life, a joy for all that surrounds her whether that’s nature or the people she encounters.
“You’re drawn to her passion for positivity," Miller said. “Being in her presence motivates you to want to do those practices to be able to live into that same joy and optimism.”
Zaruba Fountaine said her tools for balance and wellness are learned.
She makes time for pause and quiet and is intentional about how she starts her day, exercise and being in nature.
“Sleep was the key piece for me," she said. "Sometimes, that means leaving things early, sometimes it means having to say ‘no’ to certain things.”
An early source of inspiration for her came from a former supervisor when she first started at CSS.
“I was feeling very overwhelmed by everything, and I was given a ton of freedom, and honestly, I didn't know what to do with it," she said. "He said, ‘Lean into your power.’
“It literally changed my life, saying, ‘Oh, I don’t need to ask for permission.’ That’s when I really started to flourish.”