UM Accepts Health and Wellness Grant from BCBS of Mississippi Foundation

New RebelWell program will use $250,000 to expand community's health, nutrition and exercise options

Rebel Well program receives $250,000 from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation.

RebelWell program receives $250,000 from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation.

OXFORD, Miss. – With a grant of nearly $250,000, the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation is helping to expand fitness and nutrition programs at the University of Mississippi.

The foundation announced the grant for RebelWell, a new program name penned for the expanded offerings, Monday (March 24) on the Ole Miss campus.

“The goal of the foundation is to provide targeted funding to organizations and initiatives working to support a healthy future for Mississippi’s communities, schools, colleges and universities,” said Sheila Grogan, executive director of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. “The University of Mississippi’s RebelWell initiative has the potential to unify and build upon quality, existing programs and resources in order to extend the positive health impact beyond the university’s students, faculty and staff to the surrounding community in unique and creative ways.”

The program is designed to help position the university as a leader in programs and initiatives that will improve health, nutrition, exercise and individual wellness.

“I am pleased to see our faculty provide leadership for better health among our employees, students and the community,” said Dr. Dan Jones, UM chancellor. “This support from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation enhances those efforts to make us a healthier university and allows us to continue leadership for our state in healthy living.”

Though the university offers a number of fitness and nutrition options, the overall program lacks the cohesion needed to make all the opportunities easily accessible to faculty, staff, students and the broader community. RebelWell will raise the visibility of many of those programs and expand opportunities for participants to take advantage of a full range of campus- and community-based programs.

For example, a nutritionist is being added to the staff of UM’s Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management, annual fitness challenge competitions are in the works and exercise opportunities are planned for various locations across campus. Health screenings and other events also will be made available to the larger Oxford community.

“The partnership with the foundation and the creation of a comprehensive program, RebelWell, allows us to provide linkage of many programs offered on campus and to heighten the visibility of each program,” said Andrea Jekabsons, UM assistant director of employment and training. “Various departments on campus have an opportunity to work collaboratively to support the mission of wellness. The grant also provides a greater opportunity for us to work with the Oxford community.”

The collaboration across campus and with the Oxford community is a welcome addition to the many departments already on board with nutrition and wellness programs. The Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management, which already offers healthy cooking classes, nutrition classes and a variety of school-based programs, sees immediate value in these new relationships.

“Mississippi has so much potential to be healthy,” said Kathy Knight, the department’s interim chair. “With so many farmers and gardening experts to bring us local meats and produce, and some of the best cooks in the country, we have an opportunity to really highlight our strengths and set positive nutrition examples for the rest of the region. The foundation is making it possible to teach our community how to utilize these wonderful local resources.”

Jay Garner, interim chair of the UM Department of Exercise Science and Recreation Management, agrees with the potential this new resource provides.

“With the health challenges our state continues to face, our goal is to become the healthiest area in not only Mississippi, but in the Southeast,” Garner said. “This means changing perceptions that daily fitness activity is too difficult or too time consuming.

“Our goal is for our community to learn to make healthy changes in their daily lives, resulting in lifelong healthy habits. The foundation is making it possible for us to provide tools and proper training to anyone who wants to learn.”

The implementation of grant activities is in the final planning stages, with a full launch expected this spring. The grant covers programs and activities through the end of 2014, with the option for yearly renewal based on the successful attainment of the measurable grant objectives.

Faculty and staff at all UM locations will be encouraged to participate in RebelWell. Community residents from the Oxford area also will be encouraged to participate. The committee charged with grant oversight will soon be expanded to include members from a broader range of campus offices, as well as from the Oxford and Lafayette civic, business and school communities.

“Beyond merely reducing health care costs, promoting employee well-being contributes to the overall success and prosperity of the university and community,” Jekabsons added. “Acceptance of this grant is an opportunity to promote a healthy work culture by assessing the attitudes of our faculty and staff, providing additional education resources, aligning our policies to support a wellness culture and making ‘healthy’ the new norm.”

The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation works to build a healthy Mississippi through targeted grant-making throughout the state, focusing on health and wellness initiatives to support schools, communities, colleges and universities. More information is available at