Starting school in the middle of a pandemic is hard. Social distancing is hard. Isolation is hard. The Duck Nest is here to provide students with resources, like Virtual Peer Wellness Chit Chats, to boost their mental health. Students can join via Zoom to talk about anything from roommate struggles to midterms with a Peer Wellness Advocate who is ready to help out in any way possible. In these times of isolation, sometimes it’s just nice to see a friendly face — even if it’s virtual.
Here’s how it works: students join a Zoom room and are paired with a Peer Wellness Advocate to talk about their problems. Students can make reservations ahead of time or just show up and click the link.
“It’s just a time for individuals to come in and talk about whatever’s on their mind,” Georgia Greenblum said, a peer wellness coordinator at the Duck Nest and a UO junior.
Greenblum and her four colleagues, who are also students, run the Duck Nest and manage the 20 Peer Wellness Advocates that host the chit-chats.
“A Peer Wellness Advocate is an older, wiser person who has the knowledge and information to help you,” Greenblum explained.
The Duck Nest takes applications for Peer Wellness Advocates in winter, and it trains its new hires in spring. Future Peer Wellness Advocates take a two-credit class that prepares them for working in all facets of the Duck Nest.
“They know how to have tough conversations, how to listen, how to distract, how to have good conversations, which in today’s world can be really hard,” Greenblum said.
The chats are a fairly new program that the Duck Nest started this past year. “They’ve definitely been helpful with COVID and isolation,” Greenblum said. “People want and need to talk to somebody.”
UO also offers professional counseling services, but they might seem overly formal for students just looking for a quick chat or resources. The wellness chit chats are much more palatable for some. A trained peer can be more approachable than a medical professional when it comes to talking about mental health.
“Sometimes people don’t feel like they need to see someone professionally like a therapist, but they don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents or friends about their issue,” Greenblum said.
Greenblum also said that most chats have been filled with a majority of first-years. “It’s honestly great — we want to be there for individuals who are on campus, and we want to be a resource to them,” she said.
Greenblum said that the Duck Nest considers the chats to be highly successful and that they’re looking to expand them as time goes on. “With the opening of some COVID restrictions, maybe we’ll be able to offer more times for people to come in,” she said.
The Duck Nest is also offering other programs and activities to keep the UO community engaged while everything is virtual. Greenblum’s favorite is the cooking classes that the Duck Nest now offers virtually. “It’s so exciting to see people come in to cook overnight oats, loaded sweet potatoes, and do it all online,” she said. The recipes are also posted on Instagram, so it’s easy to find them if attending the Zoom sessions isn’t an option.
The Duck Nest also has activities planned for mental health awareness month in May, and Greenblum urges students to just stop by for resources in general.
“People should just come in, we always have free stuff. We always have craft kits, sleeping kits, aromatherapy kits, tea and it’s all free!” she said.
Editor’s note: Greenblum previously worked as a news reporter for the Emerald. She was not involved in the editorial process of this article, including pitching, writing and editing.