For decades, philanthropists Rob and Cindy Citrone have donated to and served as board members of educational institutions and nonprofit organizations. Through their work and their philanthropy, and in their own lives, they saw a need for wellness and coping skills as a core part of human development, especially in conjunction with helping young people transition to adulthood, navigate relationships, adjust to the workplace, and more. The Citrones believed that the higher education environment could play a major role as young people developed the “soft” skills, including effective communication, resilience, and emotion regulation, that would be needed for a lifetime. Seeking to make these philanthropic investments more strategic and impactful, their family foundation, Citrone 33, came to the Center for Strategic Philanthropy (CSP) for guidance.
The Citrones believe that helping young people by equipping them with social-emotional competencies and self-management skills is an impactful way to mitigate mental health challenges and empower young people to take control of their lives.
Experts from CSP worked in partnership with the Citrones, taking stock of gaps and opportunities in higher education, learning how to prioritize student well-being, and understanding how to help those in need access mental health resources. CSP led the Citrones through a multi-year philanthropy strategy, focused on scaling models that promote student mental health and well-being. Knowing that the higher education system is notoriously resistant to change, the Citrones took a place-based approach and partnered with colleges and universities in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, their hometown, where they had longstanding relationships they could leverage. CSP advised the Citrones to focus on increasing knowledge and awareness of mental health and well-being, supporting schools to develop thriving models, and funding resources for students.
Outcomes and Next Steps
The Citrones dove right into their new strategy. In partnership with CSP, they recruited The JED Foundation and Active Minds to work directly with specific higher education institutions in Pittsburgh. Each partner brought unique strengths: JED works with presidents, provosts, and deans to develop comprehensive strategic plans that incorporate student mental health and well-being. Active Minds works with student leaders to educate their peers on mental health and destigmatization, and to advocate for policies that support students in distress. These investments alone impact thousands of students on various campuses. Next, they identified and funded a young clinician to adapt a college course infused with the tenets of dialectical behavior therapy; the course is now being offered at five institutions, with many others demonstrating interest.
Buoyed by their successes on college campuses, the Citrones launched EMBRACE Pittsburgh, a cross-sector, citywide campaign that focuses on building mental wellness and resilience skills in collaboration with local partners and influencers. Recently, they expanded their mental well-being work to Fairfield, Connecticut (where they have a home), to support first responders in a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Child Mind Institute.
This work is only the beginning; the Citrones and CSP understand that improving mental health and well-being for college students and the general population requires a multi-year, multi-faceted strategy. CSP will continue to develop resources, host learning opportunities, and advise philanthropists giving in and outside of the education sector as they seek to make an impact on the well-being of future generations.