Emily Mintner, DPT, MBA, ATC, CSCS - Wil-Power Foundation
How do you handle the loss of a loved one? For some, the grief process draws them inward. For others, it results in reaching out. Emily Mintner, Healthcare Heroes Healthcare Humanitarian, used the devastating loss of her younger brother to start a foundation to help other students.
Wil Mintner, Emily’s brother, was just 19 in 2015 and in his first semester at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, when he was hit by a car and killed early one morning. He had, apparently, been intoxicated when the accident occurred.
Wil, a star student and athlete, was not only a champion swimmer, but a gym enthusiast and lover of Jeeps with an infectious smile. His family was crushed. His friends were shocked. How did this intelligent star athlete who had never shown an interest in alcohol end up drunk and alone in the middle of the road?
As his family reeled from the tragedy, Wil’s sister, Emily, director of rehabilitation services at Citrus Memorial Hospital (CMH), looked for some way to make sense of her loss. She took some time off and traveled. During that time, she came up with the concept of the Wil-Power Foundation.
“I decided that the big thing we have to do is to educate teens about what awaits them when they leave their comfy little nest,” she said. “In high school, your lifestyle is closed in on school, homework, sports or activity practice, maybe a part-time job. But when you go to college, you are released into the wild. Most kids feel like they are ready to leave their sheltered environment and experience real life, but there are so many decisions facing them.”
Mintner joined forces with friend and Pediatric Therapist Alissa Martin, to set up the foundation, which provides educational programs and athletic services to high school athletes who may be at risk during their freshman year of college. Martin handles the day-to-day aspect of the foundation, while Mintner focuses on educating students through “Heads Above Water,” an hour-long workshop designed for graduating seniors who are planning to leave home for college. Students learn about financial wellness, nutrition, stress management, and that they are never alone and can reach out for help. The goal is to teach students how to survive their first year of college and develop new support systems and decision-making strategies. Since 2016, Mintner has spoken to more than 2,000 students in Citrus and Marion counties.
“We want to empower students to make the right decisions even without their support system,” she said. “I pose some simple questions, like, ‘right now, who would you call if you had a flat tire?’ They’ll say, my parents, my boyfriend, my friend.
“I remind them that those people are not going to be nearby when they go to college. They may not know anyone. The pressure will be on to fit in with a group. I also talk about budgeting, stress management, and healthy eating,” she said. “The last concept is just the whole question of what happens when you leave your support system; when you’re around brand-new people who are not necessarily friends. That’s where problems can come in.”
At the end of the workshop, Mintner tells Wil’s story, “because that was his story.”
From Heads Above Water, the Foundation grew to include the Wil-Power Wellness Gym in Crystal River, which focuses on youth and the disabled. The gym provides specialized wellness services including exercise classes, nutrition guidance and wellness plans along with sports-specific exercise programs. Mintner, a former competitive swimmer at the University of Florida, then created the Otters Swim Program, a developmental swim team for ages four to 14, and a college prep swim program. Healthy Habits 4 Kids is a pediatric weight loss program. The foundation also has awarded seven sports scholarships in Wil Mintner’s name to high school student athletes.
That may seem like a lot of work for someone who has a full-time job as director of CMH’s inpatient rehab program, five outpatient rehab programs, cardiopulmonary rehab, wound care and behavioral health, but providing programs and scholarships at little to no cost requires fundraising, too. Mintner and Martin sponsor an annual Caveman Challenge: A 5k run, 400m swim with strength challenges between each lap, and a Jeep push, held each May in honor of Wil.
“It’s as much therapy as it is fundraiser for Wil’s friends and family,” said Mintner.
The foundation also holds a golf tournament, sells merchandise and gym memberships and accepts donations.
With Martin doing the daily work, Mintner still puts in a good deal of time on the foundation. She credits her CMH boss, George Mavros, for his support.
“By the grace of God, I fit it all in,” she said. “George Mavros is an awesome boss – he is well aware of what I do for the foundation and knows every April I have all these Heads Above Water presentations. I could not ask for a better boss.”
The Wil-Power Foundation was Mintner’s positive way of dealing with her brother’s loss.
“I didn’t know what to do with my feelings when Wil passed,” she said. “This is extremely important to me. It was the only positive thing I could have done.”
At the end of each workshop, Mintner gives the students contact information via social media and encourages them to see Wil-Power as a resource.
“The best part of this is that they do reach out. They’ll contact us and say, ‘this is happening, what do you think I should do?’ That’s the dream – we can get involved and help them troubleshoot, give them resources where they are,” she said. “Through Wil-Power, they know they aren’t alone.”