By NEIL ZAWICKI

Two years on, the Wellness Team at the Milton Town Offices continues to make an impact on their workplace environment.

It all started when Public Safety Assistant Mary Thompson got an email inviting the town to apply for a Worksite Wellness grant from the Vermont Department of Health (VDH). She took the idea to some coworkers and they asked the selectboard for permission to apply. The resounding yes let Thompson write and apply for the grant, which gave the town $3,000. 

Along with the funds, Thompson and her coworkers were charged with a five-step plan: Form a Wellness team, assess the workplace environment, identify strategies to improve wellness, implement and assess those strategies.

The Worksite Wellness program seeks to reduce injury at the workplace and to support emotional wellbeing, as well as reduce chronic illness. 

While office work seems like a low-impact environment, the ease can mask health risks. A 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found the amount of time a person spends sitting each day is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death.  According to the VDH worksite wellness web page, Vermonters spend more than one third of their day at the workplace.

“The programs, policies and environment at their worksite significantly influence the health of employees and their families,” reads the page.

The newly formed team, comprised of Thompson and eight coworkers, made their first action to use some of the grant money to transform the staff break room from a utilitarian space with a table to a comfortable and relaxing lounge. 

The team next worked to introduce healthy food options. To do this, they invited Vitality Vending, a Vermont-based company that offers healthy options to office workers, to bring a vending machine to the office.

Team member Lindsay Beaudoin, the Planning Department assistant, said she loved the vending machine, because she’d just come back from maternity leave, and having access to yogurts, hummus, granola and other healthy foods was great. Sadly, the machine went away after six months, only because Vitality Vending determined the level of sales did not justify having a machine at that location.

Undaunted, the Wellness team persisted with their dietary goals, creating healthy food guidelines for office functions that include food. Today, such functions now have fruits and vegetables, as well as salad options and water, instead of just cookies and pastries.

“We still have the donuts, but also the fruits,” said Thompson.

When asked if there were more leftover donuts at meetings as a result of the new options, Thompson said with a smile that there were.

“But there were also extra fruits,” she added.

The team also introduced a harvest basket to their newly designed staff room, inviting coworkers to bring fresh produce from their home gardens, and to share recipes.

In terms of staying active, the team each year issues a challenge. Last year they held a step challenge, which encouraged everyone in the office to walk the amount of steps equivalent to traveling to Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s 2,310 miles.  Thompson said 19 people in the office participated in the challenge. 

This year, the Wellness Team issued an Explore Milton challenge, which urges coworkers to visit spots throughout the town, such as the Town Forest, the Wildlife Refuge, and the Farmers Market, and then take a selfie at the location, scavenger hunt style. 

Team member Kym Duchesneau, the Recreation Department’s coordinator, helped to design the hunt, and said she plans to bring the challenge to the public thorough her department.

Thompson also said standing desks are cropping up in the town offices, with more people choosing to change the way they work in the name of wellness.

“I think there’s a trend,” she said. “There’s a greater focus on being able to support a healthier workplace. I think people recognize it’s important.”

For their part, the Wellness Team remains active outside the workplace. Team member Amy Couture, who works in the assessor’s office, said her dogs keep her active on the town’s trails, but she’s also been golfing through the rec department’s women’s golfing program. 

Beaudoin, as a new mother, said her baby duties keep her plenty active, and Duchesneau said she and her husband keep active with gardening and landscaping at their home. 

Thompson and her husband are building a home themselves from the ground up, so for the past two years that project has helped her stay active.

Other Wellness Team members are police administrative assistant Sarah Wright, zoning administrator Amanda Pitts, town treasurer John Gifford, and human resources director John Bartlett.