The Hidalgo County Wellness Program has made an impact on many county employees by getting the word out about benefits, special programs, and incentives covered by the county’s medical insurance. Many of which employees never knew they had access to.
Evana Vleck, a Public Affairs Specialist at Hidalgo County, shared the experience she has had with the Wellness Program and her journey towards a healthier lifestyle.
“I understood also that there was a lot there that was offered through our insurance that we didn’t know about. A lot of the employees here were in a way left in the dark,” said Vleck. “I was pretty comfortable with the choices I had been making, but did feel really nice to know that [the] company I’m working for — my organization — cared about our wellbeing.”
Vleck says she took notice of the county’s effort to get employees to invest in their health before the Wellness Program began.
“Actually before Diana [Huallpa] was hired, Precinct 2 [Commissioner] — Eddie [Cantu] — he was very active in having the staff have some sort of access to healthy living and improving their quality of life,” she said. “And I thought it was really cool the way he was so proactive in helping us — here. Besides all the work that he does for the community, he wanted our staff to raise the bar in healthy living.”
She discussed a movement brewing within the county among employees. They were investing more time in their health. As a result, in 2019, Diana Huallpa was hired as the Wellness Program Coordinator for the county.
“She started meeting with individual offices and getting the word out, letting them know what we had to offer. She started going to all the Commissioners Court meetings and letting all the Commissioners know what we had to offer. Letting all the department heads know what they had to offer. And it just kinda boomed into something that is almost like a normal thing now,” said Vleck.
Years prior, Vleck said she realized she needed to make a change in her health after working major outdoor events. Foods offered at events such as botanas, tacos, and fried chicken led her to gain the most weight and was the heaviest she had ever been.
“It was during that time where I wanted to take control of my health, because it was also affecting my mental health. I was depressed and I didn’t realize I was,” she explained. “I feel that I did have an addiction to food. And that I was an emotional eater. And anytime I was stressed out, that was always there. Then my coworkers were there and they were there to indulge with me, and I felt comfortable, because other people were doing it.”
Vleck says she took her first step by trying out the Atkins Diet. “What I just started doing was eating lean meats and more vegetables. That’s how I started changing my eating habits was through reading that book and not following it 100%, because I had my own ideas of food. I don’t think you should always leave something out of the diet, so I just improvised.”
The change led her to meeting like-minded people at community markets who wanted to cook healthy food and provide it to the public. She also made the effort to get her family to change their eating habits.
“There is where I got introduced to a new world of healthy eating, and it felt awesome. I started cooking all vegetarian for my family. Everything that I cooked, every single meal — this went on for years — just vegetarian,” said Vleck.
When it came to incorporating exercise on her path to a healthy lifestyle, she started out with yoga. She says she would watch instructional yoga videos.
“It changed my outlook on life,” Vleck said. “I have lost a lot of weight since then. For me, I’m not at an ideal weight, but I was extremely heavy. I can’t believe I was 280 pounds. Right now, I’m like 175.”
Vleck discussed that the webinars that the Wellness Program provided by Deer Oaks EAP Services stood out the most for her and her colleagues.
“What stood out for me that was very important was the mental health opportunities that were offered,” she said. “It helped me, and I know other employees that have talked to me who have also utilized it. I utilized it. I told them about it. They tell me about it. We shared our experiences about it. I think it’s a positive thing.”
Deer Oaks offers county employees the opportunity to seek licensed specialists locally who would want short-term counseling for stress, anxiety, grief, challenges at home, and other topics of concern.
Vleck says her self-esteem nearly held her back on changing her lifestyle. However, she found motivation at home that is ongoing.
“I had to look at myself from another point of view, the point of view from my child — from my son,” she explained. “The way that he sees me is, to me, I don’t think a mother can be any happier. He sees me as someone really strong, and capable and independent. We have good communication with each other… I had to really approach life differently and be that strong person that he sees. Be that person that creates a goal and reaches it. That took a lot of work for me, but I feel I’m there.”
Vleck highly recommends county employees to take advantage of what the Wellness Program offers. She suggests making one health goal and see where it takes them.
“We can actually go out and speak to a professional. We have those professionals speaking to us. People who know what you are going through medically,” she said. “I think that’s really important, because when we don’t have that, we’re just guessing. We’re guessing what’s good for us, what’s better for us. So, with this program, it offers us that opportunity to listen to professionals.”
Vleck believes she wouldn’t have visited the doctor as often as she does now without participating in the Wellness Program. “It’s something that I feel like it’s a normal thing now, whereas before, it wasn’t. It was like a division. I’d say ‘that’s not part of my life,’ but now it’s definitely integrated into my life, and it is a part of my life.”