Regional Partners Awarded Grant Awards Totaling Nearly $4 Million to Support Student Mental Health


By Abby Stoudt

Student mental health programs in central Pennsylvania are getting a boost from the collaborative efforts amongst the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) Geisinger, Susquehanna Valley United Way and the McDowell Institute at Commonwealth University-Bloomsburg. These partners have been awarded three grants totaling almost $4 million to fund programs to support student mental health across schools and communities in Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties. 

"We're incredibly grateful for these grants," said Danielle Empson-Schultz, director of the McDowell Institute. "Receiving grants, such as these adds a sense of acknowledgement to the collaborative planning and commitment within this region to address the mental health needs of our students."

The first of the three grants was awarded last summer to the Susquehanna Valley United Way with the McDowell Institute and CSIU participating as key implementation partners in this two-year project. This state-level grant focuses on supporting students' mental health in rural central Pennsylvania through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

One aspect of the project will involve the implementation of mental health training for individuals throughout the region's communities and school districts. These trainings are intended to increase the mental health literacy of individuals who interact with school-aged youth to understand and detect the signs and symptoms of youth experiencing emotional distress.  According to Empson-Schultz "The emphasis is not only on supporting those currently in the field but also on workforce development, increasing opportunities for those interested in school-based mental health to have earlier experiences such as internships and field experiences."

In December, two more grants were awarded. The Mental Health Awareness Partnership (MHAP) was awarded to the McDowell Institute and Project AWARE: Improving Mental Health Practices Across Communities Together (IMPACT) was awarded to the CSIU. Both of these federal grants were awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Similar to the PCCD grant, the MHAP will position the institute to further expand work with their regional partners on building a network of credentialed suicide prevention trainers across communities. "The goal is for those who become credentialed instructors to provide training to educators and others who support children, youth and adolescents," Empson-Schultz said. "Those community members will then be better equipped to identify warning signs and encourage appropriate professional help to address the needs of the youth with whom they interact."

The Project AWARE grant, the largest of the three grants awarded to the CSIU, is a four-year project that will involve collaboration with Geisinger's Pediatric Psychology Department, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services-Children's Division, the SVUW, and the institute. One goal of this program is to expand the array of mental health services and supports to youth in the region. 

All three externally funded awards have aligned goals and work to address immediate needs in the surrounding communities. "We hope that with these grants, the region’s school districts and communities will feel better supported in helping address the behavioral health needs of their school-age youth" Empson-Schultz said.

The McDowell Institute's mission is to support the facilitation of social, emotional, and behavioral wellness of children, youth, and young adults across school and community settings through training, technical assistance, and information dissemination.