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Peer connection through the Wellness Advocate Program

Being an advocate will provide WWU students with training and knowledge to address health topics in their community

A group of students share ideas in a safe space. The symbols represent giving to the community and mental health. // Graphic by Mina Di Virgilio

The Wellness Advocate Program is a volunteer opportunity for Western Washington University students interested in being a part of a team, expertly helping their community and becoming a health resource to their peers. The advocates approach topics that impact students, including mental health, sexual health, substance abuse and healthy relationships. 

Trained Wellness Advocates advocate for health policies, practices and resources, coordinate activities and lead workshops with a structured curriculum.

According to Liz Stuart, assistant director of Outreach and Health Promotion at Western, peer health education is extremely important during these neurologically formative years where social influence sets cultural standards. The participants, as well as the advocates, benefit greatly from the program during this time.

“They experience a sense of belonging and community in the group. They're building their own skills, how to talk about hard topics, and their friendships and relationships in the team itself,” Stuart said. “Really trying to practice what we preach and know that belonging, community and connection are the biggest factors that will help us practice resilience when we face hard things in our lives.” 

Maria Kotchetova, who has been a Wellness Advocate since August 2023, helps lead sexual consent workshops for student athletic clubs where more than 700 students are trained on consent and healthy relationships. She mentions that the experience in the volunteer program not only looks good on resumes, but introduces students to resources and community events available on and off campus. For example, Wink Wink, an inclusive sex boutique in downtown Bellingham, hosts workshops and community talks on campus about sensual safety and wellness.

“Not only do you get to educate yourself on those resources, but you're able to talk to other people about it,” Kotchetova said. “It's just such a fulfilling position to be in to actively be a part in improving and advocating for well being on campus, which I think is something that every college student could use more of.” 

According to Stuart, the program partners with a variety of other groups and hosts events on topics Western students could be at risk for, as demonstrated by data from the Counseling and Wellness Center, students and partnership-related proposals. 

On Feb. 13, the program worked with The Makerspace in the engineering department to host a self-love event with crafts, painting and laser engraving. The event focused on celebrating platonic friendships — ones that act as support and protection against many of the risks addressed by the Wellness Advocates. 

Central Washington University similarly hosts events, workshops and training through their Health and Wellness Services, led by both student-staff and professional staff on mental health, stress management and more. 

“Student-staff are vital for helping in training and in the thought process and execution of events because they know what is interesting to students,” said Jasmine Cottam, CWU health and promotion coordinator. “We also know that peer to peer connection is so much more meaningful and impactful than older adults telling you things.”

Stuart mentions that currently, the Wellness Advocate Program is working on a variety of projects for the spring. Among these events is “Through our Lens,” an interactive and art-based project where they will distribute 60 disposable cameras to Western students to capture their experiences of belonging and well-being.

Applications to become a Wellness Advocate open spring quarter and set students up to volunteer the following school year. The advocates go through 35 hours of training before the year starts. 

“That's what this group is all about, just reaching out to a variety of people and hoping it helps at least one person,” Kotchetova said.

In the meantime, you can join the interest list to receive registration updates from the Wellness Advocate Program.

Mina Di Virgilio

Mina Di Virgilio (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a third-year Spanish major and journalism/public relations minor. Outside of reporting on Western’s campus, Mina enjoys reading, drawing, and figure skating. You can reach her at

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