Among the many troubling side effects of the coronavirus pandemic is an escalating quiet crisis children and young people — Increase in the rate of mental illness.
But a new gift to Furman University will allow the school to meet this challenge head-on, supporting students as they build the emotional resilience required to navigate an increasingly complex world.
Tuesday, Furman announced Congressman David Trone has donated $10 million to the university, most of which will fund an expansion of mental and emotional health programs on campus.
“In this day and age, it is vital that we work together to break the stigma around mental health, ensure tolerance in our diverse communities, and equip our students with the tools and resources to succeed,” said Trone, who made the gift through the David and June Trone Family Foundation.
Trone, a 1977 graduate of the university and a Democratic U.S. Representative from Maryland, is also the founder and co-owner of the retail chain Total Wine and More. A longtime champion of mental health initiatives in Congress, he is the founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force on Addiction and Mental Health and also co-chaired the US Commission on Combating Trafficking in Synthetic Opioids.
The Throne Family has battled addiction and mental illness for generations. He was inspired to run for office in 2016, he said, in part by a beloved grandson’s battle with substance abuse. The grandson, Ian Trone, later died of a fentanyl overdose.
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David Trone’s gift, Furman University President Elizabeth Davis said, will allow the university to take its mental health services “to the next level.”
“We’re just as excited to help students learn how to be mentally fit as we want them to be physically fit and academically fit,” she said. “It really makes for a strong student experience.”
Of Trone’s $10 million gift, $8.5 million will support mental health services.
$1 million will go toward renovating the Furman Counseling Center, expanding space for group therapy, mindfulness practice and other programs. The renovations are expected to be completed later this year, Davis said.
The remaining $7.5 million will establish the Trone Family Fund for Student Mental Health and Wellness, which will maintain a diverse staff of providers capable of adapting as methods of care evolve.
The money will also enable Furman to develop an expanded mental health program. Services may include peer mentoring, body image and disordered eating programs, student athlete screening, alcohol and drug prevention, sexual health, stress management skills, and suicide prevention training.
Davis called the school’s mental health strategy “proactive, not reactive,” describing “a scaffolding approach” that will equip students with skills important to maintaining mental and emotional well-being.
Key to that strategy, Davis said, is the “most innovative” part of Furman’s initiative — its “integrative approach” to mental and emotional well-being.
“How (students) affect their mental health academically, and their mental health affects how they perform academically,” she said. “We need partners working across all divisions on campus to figure out how to address the various challenges in a cohesive and collaborative way — not just one time where one doesn’t influence the other.”
Connie Carson, Furman’s Vice President for Student Life, echoed that approach.
“We want to be upfront about the importance of wellness as a foundation for a student’s success in and out of the classroom,” she said.
Davis added that the gift will support specialized training for faculty to identify students in crisis, enabling timely intervention and support.
Furman, she noted, is particularly well-equipped to implement this integrative strategy because the university already fosters a culture of collaboration across campus.
As for when students can expect to feel the benefits of Trone’s gift — “right away,” Davis said. The university has already hired a health and wellness co-ordinator, who started in the new role earlier this month.
But Trone’s gift is not exclusively dedicated to mental health services. The remaining $1.5 million of his $10 million endowment will establish the Hillel Endowment Fund to cultivate “a stronger Jewish life for all students and the broader community,” the university said in a news release.
“We have a strong religious life group, but we really need more resources and more rabbinic time for our Jewish students,” Davis said.
Davis noted that spirituality is often an integral part of a student’s well-being. In this sense, both initiatives funded by Trone’s gift, the Hillel Endowment Fund and the Trone Family Fund for Student Mental Health, will support student well-being.
Students at Furman, Davis said, will reap the rewards of Trone’s gift — not just in the present, but “for generations to come.”