“What could be wrong with giving myself my full attention for 15 minutes? Turns out, nothing. The very act of not working has made it possible for the hum to return, as if the hum’s engine could only refuel while I was away. Work doesn’t work without play.” – Shonda Rhimes, TED2016
There have always been individuals at the Action Alliance who took special care to infuse our halls with magic and play, music and kindness. Some of these people took care to notice when a colleague had a particular obsession – bacon, Nintendo, chocolate crème eggs, or ceramic elephants to name a few – and offered tokens of love and appreciation in these tastes and shapes. There have always been staff who took pride in knowing the names of each other’s children and grandchildren, no matter the number, and asked each other about them with genuine curiosity. The Action Alliance has been a place where relationships are valued and we are encouraged to invest as much in each other as in the practical day to day work of the coalition. These individuals have always floated about spreading good cheer on their own and in 2013, after a particularly challenging year of change, the random encounters of positive influence became an institutionalized practice within the Action Alliance organizational culture and the Wellness Fairies were born.
The first iteration of Wellness Fairies was a trio of staff committed to creatively bringing wellness and self-care to the office environment. Self-care may be on its way to cliché status in the grand scheme of things but it is still a revolutionary act in our work. Carving space to celebrate each other, to play and dance together, to eat good food in the company of friends is not always easy. Encouraging a diverse set of introverts, extroverts, and everything in between to get involved in games and embrace this commitment to staff wellness can be a challenge too. The Action Alliance sees the importance of these strategies nonetheless and commits staff time and financial resources to this greater purpose of supporting self-care and sustaining a culture of wellness. And for the staff who volunteer to become Wellness Fairies the challenge and the creativity becomes part of their self-care too. Designing scavenger hunts, decorating the office, organizing bubble wrap dance parties, bringing in massage therapists, and creating small gifts for every staff person are just a few of the endeavors keeping our Wellness Fairies busy each year.
I joined the second cohort of Wellness Fairies after experiencing a year of being on the receiving end of so many awesome adventures thanks to the first cohort. I joined as a member of the Management Team to exhibit my full commitment to celebrating staff and supporting work-life balance. I joined to have fun and bring good food for my friends. Ahhh, the food. So much good food has been part of the Wellness Fairies events that we even released a staff cookbook highlighting recipes that had been shared at potlucks. We are potluck goddesses at the Action Alliance. Sharing food is a quick way to share a bit of one’s self, one’s history, and one’s desires. Sharing food builds resilience and relationships. Building resilience and relationships ensures that our team has what it needs to show up every day in this space – talking about trauma, working on tight deadlines, answering the Hotline, navigating dicey political environments.
Some suggest that if it is not hurting, if you are not stretched to the point of pain, then you must not be working hard enough. That may be a fine assessment of the gym, but that is not the environment where I want to spend my energy during my career. Non-profits are often limited in the resources available to support staff retention and sometimes do not have access to the most enticing salaries or most robust benefits packages. The Action Alliance has made commitments to pay living wages and to offer other regular benefits. We make staff development opportunities available because whether someone has been here 20 years or 5 minutes, we all have more to learn. And we use out of the box tools like the Wellness Fairies to create a workspace where people feel supported, loved, valued, and able to have fun while digging into the very hard work we do each day. The Wellness Fairies are a strategy for helping some of us get through the day and helping all of us stay in the movement to end violence a bit longer. The Wellness Fairies are a vaccine and an antidote – this organizational practice inoculates us from certain despair and cures us when the pressures of life and work become too great. Now in the third year and with a new set of fairies at the helm, the practice of cultivating wellness continues, the potlucks continue, the celebrations continue, and we are able to continue.
If you would like to learn more about how you can incorporate an organizational wellness practice like this on a shoestring budget, we will be glad to help you think it through. Get in touch with us!
Quillin Drew Musgrave is a Programs and Services Manager at the Action Alliance, a Board member of the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, and operates Harrison Street Café with their partner. Quillin is learning to engage the world from a place of connection and gratitude and gets great joy from seeing their child, StaggerLee, learn to navigate life as a four-year old.
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