Health’s Angels lift up student wellness

Exeter student group dedicated to promoting good habits and self-care to peers.

Debbie Kane
December 30, 2021
Georgie Venci '22 mans a table during positive psychology event in October led by the Health's Angels.

Georgie Venci '22 mans a table during a positive psychology event in October led by members of the student peer group Health's Angels.

It’s a chilly fall day, but under a tent on the quad, students are all smiles.

They’re participating in a positive psychology event created by the Health’s Angels, Exeter’s peer health education leaders, to promote student well-being. “There’s scientific proof that smiling makes you feel better and happier, even if you fake it,” says Health’s Angel member Anne Chen ’22, who manned the smiling booth, snapping Polaroids.

The Health’s Angels don’t have wings — except the ones printed on the back of their black T-shirts — but they’re helping lift up student wellness and self-care at Exeter. The positive psychology event is just one of many activities that the student volunteers have created in conjunction with the Health & Human Development Department and the team at Counseling and Psychological Services. “We tackle a lot of issues that are important to students, like stress and lack of sleep,” says Georgie Venci ’22. This year, Venci helped rebrand the volunteer group, formerly known as H4, as the Health’s Angels. “I enjoy being part of the solution and encouraging kids to have positive health practices,” he says.

"I wanted to be a positive voice of change and let people know there are others who want to support them. I think that’s helpful to hear, especially for new students."
Georgie Venci '22

Established by current Dean of Residential Life Carol Cahalane to help disseminate student health information, H4’s earliest efforts included distributing newsletters with timely health suggestions around campus, even taping them to the walls of bathroom stalls. While Health’s Angels still produce and distribute newsletters, “we wanted to grow the program into a peer education program,” says Michelle Soucy, chair of the department of Health Education and a Health’s Angel adviser. “If you’re trying to send a healthy message to teens, it’s going to be more successful coming from their peers than adults.”

Members of Health’s Angels are lowers, uppers and seniors who completed a year of health education; they’re invited by health faculty to apply to be in the group. Through their work, they can become nationally certified peer educators. “Our goal is to have a diverse range of health educators — day students, boarding students, athletes, non-athletes — a group of kids who wouldn’t normally work together,” Soucy says.

The Angels’ weekly lunches with Soucy and other health educators are an opportunity to connect, brainstorm and have fun. Wellness initiatives and events are created based on feedback from peers. The positive psychology fair was their first major event; during “Hell Weeks” (the busy two weeks between Thanksgiving and winter breaks), the Angels hung oversized mandalas in Agora for students to color as a relaxation exercise. They’ve also produced bookmarks with suggested language for students to use if they want to access counseling on campus. Members also lead “House Calls,” a 15-minute program focusing on specific topics like sexual health, nutrition and stress for dorm residents or sports teams. “The kids are really dedicated to improving health on our campus, especially mental health,” says Soucy.

Venci was excited to join Health’s Angels as a lower. “I joined because I wanted to be a positive voice of change and let people know there are others who want to support them,” he says. “I think that’s helpful to hear, especially for new students.” He adds, “Health’s Angels feels like a collaboration with your best friends. I always look forward to our lunches.”

Chen agrees. “Everyone’s so excited to do this work,” she says. As a proctor in Williams House, she regularly talks to students about health concerns. “My dorm has struggled with dietary habits and eating right because everyone is so busy,” she says. “I talk to them a lot about maximizing dining hall options and establishing eating patterns and schedules.”

Future health events include a tour of the athletic facilities, including Downer Family Fitness Center, for non-athletes, introducing students to the trainers and teaching them proper use of the fitness equipment. “A lot of people are intimidated by the gym,” says Malcolm John ’22. “It’s a barrier to so many people’s fitness. We can show people it’s not scary and how to use the gym effectively.”

Being a Health’s Angel has changed Chen’s definition of what it means to be healthy. “I have a more nuanced understanding of health issues here at Exeter,” she says. “I take much better care of myself. Health’s Angels has made me a better proctor and friend.”

That’s worth smiling about.