Next to the pool tables and video games in its Galleria building, Howard Community College will start offering more serious diversions in the spring: information, screenings and programs to help students live more healthily.
The school received a two-year, $100,000 grant from the Horizon Foundation and is walling off a section of its game room to set up its first wellness center.
HCC has offered smoking-cessation seminars, depression screenings, mental health counseling and other programs, said Kathleen Hetherington, vice president of student services. Now, she said, administrators are hoping "to have a centralized spot where all the [health-related] happenings that are going on for the year could be coordinated."
The school has hired a coordinator for the center and plans a February opening. Hetherington said the school would like to join local health organizations such as the Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel to provide information, screenings and other services.
Richard M. Krieg, the Horizon Foundation's president and chief executive officer, praised that plan. "We think the model definitely is very innovative," he said. "It provides a staging ground for groups that care about health to come together in a concentrated way."
Residential four-year schools usually have medical and wellness services on campus, but two-year schools with commuter students have taken a variety of approaches to meet the health needs of their students.
Fitness facilities are fairly common on community college campuses in Maryland, offering exercise machines, gyms and sometimes pools. Many schools hold health fairs, screening events and seminars throughout the year.
But some schools have moved to centralize and expand their activities regarding illness prevention and healthier living.
Carroll Community College added a wellness office next door to its fitness center when it moved those facilities from off campus two years ago.
Anne Arundel Community College is one of a few two-year schools that offer medical services with a registered nurse on staff, along with wellness education.
Baltimore City Community College previously had a physician available at its wellness centers on two campuses and is trying to resume that service.
"People come with so many needs," said Tanya Deshields-Yates, coordinator of health services. She said BCCC is concerned about a significant number of students who lack health insurance, including those with part-time jobs, international students and recent immigrants.
"As a retention piece, we like to make sure our students stay healthy," she said.
A feasibility study at HCC found a strong need for wellness services.
"What we were finding out ... is that students were feeling significant degrees of stress, and it was negatively affecting their health," Hetherington said.
Students face "not only the demands that they have being a student," she said, "but a majority of students who come to HCC work. Some of them also have their own families. ... They're basically trying to do everything without stepping back and taking care of themselves first."
The center will be able to reach the growing number of full-time students of traditional college age who are attending community colleges and tend to expect more amenities from their campuses, she said.
The college has agreed to find funding for the center to be used after the two-year grant expires.
The Horizon Foundation, a nonprofit public charity that focuses on health issues in Howard County, awarded the college $3,000 this year for a wellness fair to be held next year. The foundation also funded the feasibility study for the center.
"I'm really positive about this," said Alexander Nowodazkij, president of HCC's student government. "I'm sure it's needed."
Nowodazkij, an engineering student from Ellicott City, said it can be difficult to get students to spend time on campus at two-year schools because they live, work and have responsibilities elsewhere.
He said the center will encourage students to take advantage of health services. "I think it draws people in," he said.
He would like the center moved to a more permanent location than the game room, he said.
"It think it is necessary to expand it to really make the presence stronger in the community college," he said.