A $9.2-million gift from Jeff and Shelley Parr has helped Western University launch a unique centre dedicated to providing collaborative and innovative approaches to proactive student mental health and well-being.
The Parr Centre for Thriving will create greater awareness and provide more support to Western students than ever before – focusing on programs, education and strategic initiatives to help students thrive academically and personally.
This new Centre will complement Western’s ongoing investment in student mental health supports.
“Becoming a leader in student mental health is a priority for Western,” said President Alan Shepard. “We are grateful to Jeff and Shelley Parr for recognizing the importance of this area, and for partnering with us to help ensure we continue to prepare our students to thrive and succeed in university, and in life.”
The Parr Centre will bring together the entire campus to help foster a community of experts dedicated to student well-being.
It will also distribute funding to develop innovative mental health initiatives in partnership with units across the university that work closely with students, including faculties, Western Student Experience, residences, the Centre for Teaching and Learning and Western Libraries.
For the first two to three years, the Centre will support mental health initiatives specifically for first-year undergraduate students, who may face higher stress as they enter a new stage of life.
Western alumnus Jeff Parr, BA’82, said the work is exactly what he and his wife, Shelley, envisioned for their gift.
“Mental health challenges have touched our family and our friends’ families. In all instances, they could have been assisted and treated sooner if they’d had the proper supports, and learned the proper coping mechanisms.” Jeff Parr
“We’re glad to be investing in this area so when students experience challenges, they can not only get help, but learn to be okay with those challenges and, most importantly, to learn how to overcome them,” he said.
Third-year student Lena Schreyer, who won a 3M National Student Fellowship for her leadership in the area of student mental health care, believes mental health challenges are a major problem facing post-secondary students. “There is a great need for proactive mental health care that equips students with the knowledge, skills and resources necessary to thrive in the face of adversity,” she said. “This gift and this centre are very welcome news.”
This year, in particular, could bring additional pressures for students, said Jennifer Massey, associate vice-president, student experience.
“We are committed to helping our students thrive, so they graduate as leaders in their careers and in their communities,” she said. “The upcoming school year will be one of major disruption for students, many of whom will be starting degrees online, and in other unique ways they never imagined. Providing opportunities for students to develop friendships and mentors, find purpose, learn to solve problems, embrace diverse ways of knowing and inspire hope are central to the capacity of students to thrive.”
Funding from the Parr Centre is already helping students meet the challenges of the upcoming year and set them up for personal and academic success throughout their time at Western and beyond.
Incoming first-year students will have access to new resources, experiences and curriculum to help them identify and apply their strengths. They will develop techniques for personal and academic success, and learn to bounce back from disappointment, important skills for handling stress and balancing mental health.
The Centre will also ensure Western faculty and staff receive specialized training and professional development to support student thriving.
By taking a unique approach to holistic student well-being, the Parrs hope to see Western become a leader in the university sector – across Canada and around the world.
The gift is already inspiring others to support student thriving at Western.
Clairvest, a private equity management firm where Parr is vice-chairman and managing director, has since donated $300,000.
“What Jeff and Shelley have done here is admirable,” said Clairvest CEO Ken Rotman. “They are an example to all of us of what we can, and should, be doing on whatever scale possible relative to our own means, to support our community.”
Continuing to inspire others by raising the profile of the challenge and the need for solid response remains the most important factor, said Parr.
“Any time you can touch someone where there’s a connection or passion, it ignites people,” he said “We’d love to be just the initial edge of the wedge, and have people follow us in supporting this area to help make Western a leader in student mental health.”