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Rio Salado Earns Healthy Arizona Worksite Award

Rio Salado monument against blue sky, HAWP award logo Rio Salado Culture Page with mission and value statements, including 4 practices Rio Salado Employees gathered at an event, two attendees smiling at camera Rio Salado College Tempe headquarters sustainable garden. Rio Salado brand and HAWP award logo

Rio Salado College was recognized by the Healthy Arizona Worksite Program (HAWP) as a 2020 Copper awardee of excellence in worksite wellness at the annual awards ceremony hosted virtually on June 11.

The HAWP awards recognize employers making efforts to positively affect the health and well-being of their employees, families and the communities they serve by implementing comprehensive worksite wellness strategies. Rio Salado joins South Mountain Community College as a Copper awardee and the Maricopa Community Colleges District, which received a Gold award.

“The data is clear, employee wellness programs work and the return on our investment has rippling effects,” said Rio Salado’s Associate Vice President of Employee Services Maria Bellino. According to HAWP, some employers have realized up to a $6 return for every $1 invested in wellness programs. 

“We are trying to offer services and programs that address physical, mental and emotional wellness,” said Bellino. “We are also striving to provide professional and personal enrichment that’s lasting— and improves the quality of work and home life. In some cases, it can save lives.”

Why the investment?  Here’s a look at the bill of health for America’s workplace according to HAWP:

  • 67% of our workforce is overweight or obese
  • 1 in 4 Americans has heart disease
  • 1 in 3 Americans has high blood pressure
  • 50% of company profits go towards healthcare costs

Rio Salado College Interim President Kate Smith has a long-standing commitment to wellness. Among the more recent investments made by the college is a series of workshops focusing on 4 Practices of Engagement: Happiness, Empathy, Mindfulness and Resilience. The workshops began as in-person sessions and have transitioned to online since employees began working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These practices have since become part of the college culture.

While not part of the HAWP review, the college began hosting listening and learning sessions this month to address issues of long-standing racial injustices, equity, inclusion, COVID-19 and other challenging current events. “These listening sessions are a way of helping employees voice their concerns, find resources and engage in a meaningful dialogue that will hopefully create positive change,” said President Smith.

To help employees improve their physical wellbeing, the college maintains a fitness center, walking stations, a walking path, a ping pong table and a quiet room. The college also hosts yoga and other classes at its fitness center, which have transitioned to an online format while employees work from home.

“I am proud of our instructors, Trent Hanratty and Shelley Dennis, who were able to take our physical activity classes virtual for our employees at both Rio and District Office during COVID-19 concerns to help our employees stay active at home,” said Rio Salado Wellness Coordinator Christin Franco. 

The college partners with the Maricopa Community Colleges District office to advance its Naturally Slim weight control program, hosts wellness fairs and arranges for on-site mammogram and prostate screenings so employees can take advantage of the time and cost savings of these services. Rio Salado also hosts blood drives and other events to give employees a chance to help others in need, bond and champion important causes.

There are 7 steps to applying for the HAWP awards including training, evaluations of achievements and designing health improvement plans.

Rio Salado’s health improvement plan will focus on stress management, community resources and depression. The vision is to create a worksite environment to help employees engage in healthy behaviors that contribute to the prevention and management of chronic conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental illness, etc.)  The goal is to support employees in managing their stress using techniques supported by NIOSH suggestions for stress management (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health - US Department of Health and Human Services).

“We spend most of our waking hours at work and we know work-life balance is essential, which is why we are committed to providing resources for Rio Salado employees and their families to find wellness on many fronts,” said President Smith. 

The Healthy Arizona Worksites Program is a public health initiative offered by the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH). Its mission is to help employers learn how to successfully implement worksite wellness initiatives to improve the health of their employees and businesses. For more information, go to

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