The gift will help expand the counseling center, launch an integrative approach to mental health and wellness, and establish the Hillel Endowment Fund.
Congressman David Throne gave $10 million to Furman University, with $8.5 million earmarked for student mental health services and $1.5 million to support Furman’s Hillel, the Association of Jewish Students. The gift makes Troun, a 1977 Furman graduate and board member, one of the university’s largest living donors.
“As a proud graduate of Furman University, I am honored to have the opportunity to respond in a meaningful way to a matter of great personal importance,” said Trohn, a Democratic U.S. representative from Maryland who is also the founder and co-owner of the Total retail chain Wine and More.
$8.5 million for mental health will transform services, allowing the university to reach more students in need of care earlier and with new approaches, making Furman a model for mental and emotional health care—what Trone calls “fitness for mental health” – in higher education.
Trone has supported many mental health and addiction initiatives in Congress. He chairs the U.S. Commission to Combat Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, is the founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force on Addiction and Mental Health, and has spoken publicly about the death of his nephew Ian Trone from a fentanyl overdose.
“Today, it is vital that we work together to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, ensure tolerance in our diverse communities, and provide our students with the tools and resources to succeed,” said Throne, who gave $3.5 million of Furman in 2013 to renovate and name the Tron Student Center. “With this gift from the David and June Throne Family Foundation, I believe Furman University will continue to positively influence and shape our nation’s future leaders.”
The gift goes to the heart of The Furman Advantage and its emphasis on helping students create lives of purpose and impact, said Furman University President Elizabeth Davis.
“The Furman Advantage helps students become resilient and adaptable to change in the face of adversity. Mental fitness is vital to developing these skills, ensuring our students can succeed academically, socially and emotionally,” says Furman University President Elizabeth Davis. “David and June’s generous donation will clearly make a significant difference in the lives of our students and in our campus community, now and for generations to come.”
Mental health problems among students have been increasing in recent years. Several studies suggest the increase has been exacerbated by the pandemic. A national survey by the Healthy Minds Network in the spring of 2021 found that 41 percent of college students tested positive for depression and 34 percent had an anxiety disorder. In the fall 2021 National College of Health Assessment of the American Health Association, nearly 73 percent of more than 33,000 respondents reported moderate to severe psychological distress.
In a recent survey of Furman students, 65 percent said the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected their mental health, and 63 percent said it has affected their loneliness and isolation.
“The impact of Trones’ gift will spur a more integrative approach to mental health and launch us on the trajectory of prioritizing wellness as part of a student’s educational pathway,” said Vice President for Student Life Connie Carson.
With $1 million from Trone’s gift, Furman will expand and renovate its counseling center to create more group space and mindfulness practice areas, as well as provide more flexible space to expand other services and programs. The space will be renamed the Trone Center for Mental Fitness.
Another $7.5 million will establish the Trone Family Fund for student mental health and well-being. It will fund positions to provide a permanent level of professional staff who adapt as methods of engagement in mental fitness change, starting with the recruitment of a Health and Wellbeing Co-ordinator. It also provides the position that oversees mental health and ensures the hiring of a diverse staff to reflect the student population.
But the growing need for mental health services cannot be met by hiring more counselors alone. The Trone gift will allow Furman to expand mental health and wellness services beyond the walls of the therapist’s office, integrating mental fitness into various student activities, such as mentoring and advising. The goal is to help students develop lifelong healthy habits that promote mental well-being while providing tools and skills to help them build resilience when health challenges arise.
“We want to be upfront about the importance of wellness as a foundation for student success in and out of the classroom,” Carson said.
Programs may include peer mentoring, body image and malnutrition programs, ongoing screening of all student-athletes, alcohol and drug prevention, sexual health, stress management skills, and suicide prevention training for students, faculty and staff . Some of these can be integrated into the Pathways program, a two-year personal, academic and professional growth course that every Furman student takes in their freshman and sophomore years.
The remaining $1.5 million will establish the Hillel Endowment Fund to provide ongoing support for the expansion and enhancement of Furman Hillel for a more stable Jewish life for all students and the greater community. Hillel also provides important aspects of mental fitness by giving students a place where they feel welcome and valued and where they can meet their spiritual needs.
“Through the establishment of The Hillel Endowment Fund, we are able to expand and enhance Furman Hillel for a more stable Jewish life for all students and the greater community,” said June Trohn.
“David and June have again identified a tremendous need among our students,” Davis said. “We are grateful for their generous spirit and applaud their leadership and their desire to make a difference.”