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Parr family donates over $9 million to Western University for students’ mental health

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.
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. Frank Neufeld / Western University

Western University has received a $9.2-million donation to create a centre to help support student’s mental health and well being.

The donation from Jeff and Shelley Parr will create the Parr Centre for Thriving, which will have programs, education, and strategic initiatives focused on helping students succeed.

The Centre will also distribute funding to other mental health initiatives across the university for both students and staff, with an emphasis for the first few years on first-year undergraduate students.

“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.

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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.”

The Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates 75 per cent of all lifetime cases of diagnosable mental illness start by the age of 24.

Funding for the Centre will be used to help incoming students with the added challenges of the new school year due to the coronavirus.

“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,” said Jennifer Massey, associate vice president, student experience.

“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.”

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Incoming first-year students will have access to new resources, experiences and curriculum to help them identify their strengths and develop essential skills for handling stress and balancing mental health.

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The Parrs say they hope their donation will inspire others to support resources to help Western students thrive and make Western a leader in the university sector.

“Becoming a leader in student mental health is a priority for Western,” said university 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.”