Auburn Academy Nurtures Whole-Person Growth

December 22, 2020 | Education

Well-being is more than the absence of illness. It includes how good we feel about ourselves and our abilities to grow and thrive in life.

Auburn Adventist Academy recognizes it has an incredible influence on the intellectual, social, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of students, staff and their families. More than a year ago, the academy started planning a two-year pilot program for student wellness.

To nurture this wellness program, Auburn recently invited La-Dana Manhertz-Smith to join the team to promote personal well-being, empower proactive student choices and provide preventive resources.

“We need help in meeting the mental and emotional health needs of our students,” says Peter Fackenthall, Auburn principal. “We need mentors and adults who are involved in the lives of students. The needs are huge to aid students in their well-being. We are grateful for La-Dana Manhertz-Smith joining our team at just the right time.”

Manhertz-Smith is a certified stress and wellness consultant who is pursuing a Master of Arts in clinical mental health counseling at Liberty University. She recently completed a Master of Arts in interdisciplinary studies around counseling and psychology. She also holds certifications in crisis management, workplace mental health leadership, positive psychology and well-being coaching. 

Prior to Auburn, Manhertz-Smith worked as the wellness program advisor and coordinator for one of the largest policing services in Ontario, Canada.

The AAA well-being coordinator is primarily responsible for organizing direct support services to students, staff and families, including referrals to licensed mental health clinicians and service providers to meet the diverse needs of the school community.  

“We want to give students the tools they need to succeed and navigate the ups and downs of life with resiliency,” Manhertz-Smith says. “COVID-19 is showing us how resilience building skills are critical.”

Services include nonclinical consultation (like coping with stress, life skills, goals, etc.), short-term crisis management and preventive self-help strategies. Clinical counseling services — diagnosis, treatment, management or therapy for mental health or substance use issues — are referred to a network of providers.

“A nonclinical consultation may be therapeutic, but it is not therapy," Manhertz-Smith explains. "Rather, it is an opportunity to provide a safe, compassionate and supportive presence to help someone explore his or her individual needs, provide support and identify a plan of action."

Manhertz-Smith is already setting up a dedicated wellness space, hosting wellness session in the dorm on Tuesdays, establishing a community referral network and offering daily wellness activity prompts.

"La-Dana's call for us to find balance and well-being is a much-needed message right now,” says Nathan Klingstrand, AAA boys' dean. “It is encouraging for me as a dean to see the boys blessed and excited to learn new coping strategies and mindsets.”

Jackie Langi, AAA girls' dean, agrees. "La-Dana is bridging the gaps in mental health awareness," she says. "She has integrated personal development with spiritual growth, and the girls are learning new ways to process and deal with daily stressors.”