First Four-legged Awardee Joins CBOP 2023 Wellness Champions



"From a simple kiss, hug or pet Quinn is able to calm and center these children who are processing their thoughts and emotions."

-- Hannah Empfield

The Western PA Conference Board of Pensions celebrated three Wellness Co-champions for 2023, including Quinn, WPAUMC's facility dog, and his handler, Hannah Empfield as well as Rev. Karen Slusser. This year's co-champions were honored for their efforts building mental health ministries and working to destigmatize mental health care.

As part of the initiative to promote abundant health across the Annual Conference, the CBOP introduced the Wellness Champion award in 2016. The Wellness Champion recognition is given to a participant (or participants) who have exhibited excellence in caring for their own health and have taken initiative to enact healthy life changes and/or promoting wellness in their communities.

Hannah & Quinn

Hannah and Quinn currently are associated with and serve the WPUMC as some of the founding members of its facility dog program. The program focuses on educating people about the importance of service, facility and therapy animals, while also aiding members of the conference mentally, physically and spiritually.

"What initially was meant to be a few months of hands on experience with dog training has now turned into a growing outreach that I could not be prouder to be a part of," Hannah comments. "Over the past few years Quinn and I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of multiple mental health forums held by the conference to support our youth. Quinn patiently lays amongst the individuals attending these events letting them know he is there for them during these sometimes exhausting conversation."

"Although this can be an extremely heavy topic of discussion it is also an extremely important topic that needs attention. As a person who has experienced their own mental health struggles, along with the passing of a very dear friend due to the same struggles I take it upon myself to use my voice to help change the stigma surrounding mental health," Hannah said of her and Quinn's work toward mental health wellness.

"I am extremely grateful to receive the 2023 Wellness Champion award and the awareness this will bring to importance of mental health and how it relates to our overall health and wellness."

For more details about WPAUMC's facility dog ministry and to request Quinn and Hannah for an upcoming event, visit our Facility Dog Ministry webpage.

Rev. Karen Slusser

"When the mental health needs piled up around me personally and professionally, I did some research and found out about mental health first aid training through the National Council on Mental Wellbeing. I took trainings to become certified in mental health first aid for adults and for youth, and found the training so valuable that I was compelled to find a way to make it locally available," says Rev. Karen Slusser.

Rev. Slusser has worked with her local church, St. Paul's UMC in Allison Park, to develop a mental health ministry, regularly offering mental health first aid certification, with a vision of mental health first aid training becoming as common as physical first aid and CPR training.

"An important collateral blessing of advertising for and hosting regular mental health first aid trainings and parent support groups is that it helps to de-stigmatize mental health challenges and lets the community know this church is a safe place to talk about things like depression, anxiety, addiction, and find support," notes Rev. Slusser.

"The more we talk about mental health the easier it becomes for people to find the courage to seek help when it is needed! That’s why I am excited to be nominated as a wellness champion – it is one more opportunity to talk about mental health as an annual conference, and I am convinced that every conversation helps!"