$9.2M gift to help student mental health

Photo of Shelley and Jeff Parr provided by Western University.

Students at Western University will have more resources to help address their mental health, thanks to a multi-million dollar donation.

It was announced Tuesday that Jeff and Shelley Parr have donated $9.2 million to the university. The money will go toward the Parr Centre for Thriving, which the university says will focus on programs, education, and strategic initiatives to help students with their studies and personal well-being.

“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 said. “We’re glad to be investing in this area so when students experience challenges, they can not only get help, but to learn to be okay with those challenges and, most importantly, to learn how to overcome them.”

The Parr Centre for Thriving will also distribute funding to mental health initiatives at the university, focusing primarily on first-year students for the first two to three years. According to the university, incoming first-year students will be able to access new resources that will help them identify their strengths, develop ways to achieve personal and academic success, and be resilient in the face of disappointment.

“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.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming school year will look very little like those in the past. Students starting university will have a much different experience this year, something that could bring additional stress, according to Jennifer Massey, Western’s associate vice president of student experience.

“We are committed to helping our students thrive, so they graduate as leaders in their careers and in their communities,” Massey 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.”

The Parrs hope their donation will spur others to take similar action to support the mental health and well being of Western students.