It’s the first day of spring break and the weather is seasonable in the mid-70s.

While most students are taking a well-deserved time off from their studies, a group of students in the College of Health and Human Services’ Honors Program in Collaborative Leadership are giving back to families in the Fresno community.


They’ve assembled at the Art of Life Healing Garden at Woodward Park to spread some knowledge on wellness and nutrition – and to also engage visitors in stress relieving activities through art therapy. It’s an event they’ve dubbed “Fun in the Sun” and it’s a project they’ve been working on in their HHS 114/115 “Collaborative Leadership in Health and Human Services” course for the past two semesters.

Ann Wilcox and her group, Team EASY Life, chose a project that focuses on family wellness.

“Wellness is an interesting term and we find that it’s encompasses spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, environmental and occupational health,” said Wilcox, a senior nursing student. “There’s a lot of things that go into what your family wellness is going to be. We tried to find an activity that could help people be aware of what wellness is, but also give them tools that they could take home to build their wellness as a family.”

Team EASY Life: Samantha Gomez, Ann Wilcox, Yuan-Hsin Shih and Emily Adler, with members of the Student Nutrition and Dietetic Association.

To do this, they’ve set up a nutrition and fitness station. At their nutrition station, they’re showing children and adults how to make a simple and nutritious snack made primarily with celery. They are joined by members of the Fresno State Student Nutrition and Dietetic Association, who provided the team with snack ideas and recipe books to share with the families in attendance.

“By doing those things together, you’re building your wellness,” Wilcox said. “You’re making food together that you’re going to nourish your body with, you’re energized together – it builds togetherness and openness in a family.”

DSC_2796A few yards away, speech-language pathology senior, Yuan-Hsin Shih, is engaging families in a simple game of frisbee, led by local physical trainer Ann Fink. During the activity, the frisbee is tossed, the person who catches it answers a question, then tosses it to the next person and so on. The goal of the family fitness station was to encourage communication and connectedness among families.

In total, 55 individuals took part in both of their activities.

On the other end of the Healing Garden is another group, who is focusing on “Stress in Cancer Patients”, by incorporating art therapy into their activity. Under a shaded tree, there are three tables and at each table sits a few individuals and families. Each has a marker and small rock in hand. For some, their faces are fixed with concentration. For others, a wide smile beams across their face.

Families in participate in art therapy at the Art of Life Healing Garden. March 20, 2016.

Some of these families have members that are going through cancer or just know of someone that is. The group chose this activity to see if will reduce stress for these individuals.

“We are having participants draw pictures or write words of inspiration on the rocks,” said Morgan Sparlin, a senior nursing major. “Then, kind of like a reverse Easter egg hunt, we’re having them decorate the trail with their rocks. That way, when visitors walk the trail, they’ll be inspired and have some kind of happy feeling afterwards.”

Rosemary Vargas of Selma, came to the healing garden for the first time with her family. She has Metastatic Bone Cancer and said the experience of the rock art was therapeutic.

DSC_2803“Any kind of activity takes your mind off of whatever you’re going through at the time,” Vargas said. “So you’re just focused on getting your picture on a rock – and that’s kind of nice.”

For others, stress and anxiety are a normal part of their routine. For many, the act of art therapy proved to be healing and relaxing. One individual, who happened to be passing by, noticed the activity and decided to take part. She mentioned to the group members how much stress she had been feeling lately. Upon finishing the art therapy, her anxiety decreased dramatically.

“It is really fun to see that we’re actually making an impact on some people’s lives – that they’re going to want to go and actually do this in the future,” said Sparlin.

Social Work junior, Isabel Gutierrez, recalled how one family was so moved by the art therapy activity that they decided to hold their own similar event. Little did the group members know, that family had just lost a young daughter to brain cancer only a few month prior. The family has since invited the honors group to attend their event in May.

In all, 52 individuals took part in the art therapy and 100% of them stated that the art was stress fee and helpful.

“Stress in Cancer Patients” Group: Morgan Sparlin, Isabel Gutierrez Reyes, Dominic Breshears and Brittani Parson.

Dr. Jenna Sawdon-Bea, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, served as both of the group’s “gatekeeper” – an individual who guides both groups and oversees their projects. She is also a cancer survivor and current president of the Art of Life Cancer Foundation in Fresno, who partnered with the Honors Program for the event.

She said having the students collaborate with the Art of Life foundation at the Healing Garden with the “Fun in the Sun” event has been exciting.

“I love helping students and I was glad to be a part of this,” Sawdon-Bea said. “Seeing their faces when it all came together and to share in their pride was so great. They put it all together and pulled it all off with a smile. This group of honors students is just an amazing group – professional, top notch, mature, self-starters.”

The Honors Program in Collaborative Leadership began in fall 2014 with the mission of providing scholarly and motivated students in the college an enhanced educational experience thorugh advanced study and interdisciplinary engagement with their peers.

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Honors students talk in class about how collaboration helped move their project along.

The two-semester program helps students develop leadership skills in collaborative team-building and gives them the chance to see first-hand how each health and human service profession contributes to the overall health of individuals, families and communities.

“The Honors Program is like nothing I’ve ever been a part of before,” said Wilcox. “In nursing, we learn how to do community assessment on our own, but doing with group is so much more beneficial. Collaborating with my classmates from all different interdisciplinary areas has been eye opening.”

Learn more about the Honors Program in Collaborative Leadership here!