A joyous energy emanated from around 2,300 Carolina employees who came out for Employee Wellness Day on March 18. On a sunny day dotted with clouds, folks were practically giddy from seeing people they’d not seen in two years.
The crowd grew quickly. Groups of coworkers, a mother with stroller, a father leading a child. They visited tables hosted by campus offices and off-campus vendors who talked with employees about nutritional, financial, fitness and other well-being resources. They hammed it up in the photo booth, worked up a glisten doing low-impact aerobics, had their blood pressure taken, learned from cooking demonstrations and did dozens of other fun things.
Most of all, they reveled in being together.
For some, the event sponsored by the Office of Human Resources was their first time on campus since being hired mid-pandemic. For others, it was a continuation of their essential on-campus work throughout the pandemic.
Groundskeepers Todd Wright and Blake Schemmer tried out the inflatable sports just before the official 11 a.m. start. Schemmer put a workboot to soccer balls with alarming force trying to score a goal, while Wright excelled at basketball. “I just hit seven threes and whipped this youngster,” he said. As Schemmer finished another kick, Wright urged him on to the next game. “Ready to play something else?”
Others continued arriving, drawn by the sounds of The Knack’s “My Sharona,” Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” and other tunes spun by a center-stage DJ. Laughing and socializing, the crowd spilled out onto the bricks around the Frank Porter Graham Student Union. Many wore masks and many went without. Everyone acted respectfully.
Outside, healthy boxed lunches and bananas in bunches waited on tables, with bottled water nearby. People sat at tables throughout the courtyard surrounded by Native American-inspired art in the brickwork and pottery. More tables filled the Pit’s sunken courtyard.
Inside the Union, folks stopped at sponsored booths. Employees moved through, interacting and scooping up lots of swag.
At a table near the Union’s northern entrance, Nada Stanisic, human resource specialist at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, shared information on the Wellness Champions program. “An event like this is very important,” she said. “We want healthy employees, and they should have breaks to relax and enjoy,” she said just as a friend sidled up next to her. “I’m seeing my friends!”
Rameses moved through the crowd, high-fiving, posing for photos and visiting tables. At the BeAM Makerspace display, he tried his big, padded hands at making a button. When asked what he liked best about the event, Rameses spoke for everyone without truly speaking. He answered by spreading his arms out wide to point to everyone and all the activity.
At the main door to the Great Hall, Jill Davis greeted participants during her volunteer shift. Davis, who has worked at Carolina for all of two weeks, is executive assistant to Martin Brinkley, dean of the law school. “I volunteer for lots of things,” she said. “It’s a neat way to give back, to meet people and make connections.”
Just inside the Great Hall door, Jen DeNeal stood behind a table. The associate director of Ethics and Policy and Employee Forum delegate was recruiting donors for the next Carolina Blood Drive June 7 at the Dean E. Smith Center. “We’d like to sign up as many people as possible,” she said.
James Glass, a housekeeping crew leader who has worked at Carolina for 16 years, had a mask on but it was not hiding his joy as he waved to others and talked with vendors. “What’s special about this day is you get to enjoy yourself and have some fun,” he said. “I’m seeing some people I’ve not seen in three years.”
Estella Mencias, a housekeeper for the past 18 years, joined hundreds of others strolling by tables and filling their bags with swag. “It’s been great to see friends,” she said.
For Nick Beresic, communications director at Osteoarthritis Action Alliance, it was only his third time on campus as he’s been working remotely since being hired. “Today’s been pretty positive,” he said as he stood near the alliance’s table. “People are sharing stories, and we have lots of resources for people, employers and health care professionals. Plus, I don’t know where anything is on campus, so I just listened when my co-worker said go this way.”
“Seeing everyone’s faces is making us all happy,” Margo MacIntyre, Coker Arboretum curator, said of the two years of not seeing others in person. “It kind of feels like we need name tags.”