Big donations boost mental health program

$2 million raised to expand El Camino's Aspire for local youth

After a lengthy appeal to the public to do more to support teens and young adults suffering from anxiety and depression, El Camino Hospital announced that it has raised $2 million to expand its after-school mental health program.

The announcement on Jan. 9 marks the end of a 20-month long challenge for community donors to match a $1 million grant by Mary and Doug Scrivner, all of which will go towards setting up an endowment to fund the After-School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education (Aspire) program at El Camino Hospital. The Aspire program is an intensive outpatient therapy program for students and young adults struggling with anxiety and depression who are at risk of harming themselves, and draws dozens of teens from Mountain View, Los Altos, Palo Alto and beyond.

"We are thrilled and grateful that so many in our community have joined us in supporting mental health services," Mary Scrivner said in a statement. "Reaching the $1 million challenge goal, six months ahead of the schedule, really shows that people want to make a difference in this community."

The Aspire program has played an important role in mental health care for north county residents since it launched in 2010, providing teens with a supportive environment and strategies to cope with stress, anxiety and depression regardless of what insurance companies are willing to pay for it.

Jodi Barnard, the president of the El Camino Hospital Foundation, said the open nature of the fundraising challenge also had a symbolic purpose, allowing big donors to show the community can overcome the "significant" amount of stigma that still exists in Silicon Valley.

"This was a real opportunity to have people commit to this and be very public about their gift," Barnard said. "There's big open dialogue in our service area around mental health."

All told, 269 donors -- including 72 hospital employees -- pitched in for the fundraising initiative, including some large donations. One donor gave $250,000, and a final $156,000 donation brought the hospital up to the $1 million mark last month.

With the $2 million endowment, the hospital expects to expand the service to 42 students, up from the current 31 enrolled in the program.

Aspire has grown in scope and size in recent years. Although the program was originally tailored for high school-aged students, El Camino has since added new tracks for middle school students as well as young adults ages 18 to 25. Enrollees are separated into groups of eight in order to preserve the personal and small-scale nature of the program that has proven to be the "sweet spot" for the Aspire program, Barnard said.

The hospital also launched an intensive two-week Aspire "prep" program last year, which allows students with more severe symptoms a chance to take part in the normal eight-week Aspire program. Glenn Teeter, the senior program therapist for Aspire, said the prep program has been a helpful measure that gives the hospital an alternative to referring students out to high-level care and residential treatment.

"It's really allowed us to do a lot more for the community," Teeter said. "When kids get referred elsewhere, they have to live outside the home."

Donors aren't the only ones publicly supporting El Camino's mental health programs.

Lauren Olaiz, the community liaison for El Camino, said there's been a big increase in mental health awareness on the school level, and more families are coming forward looking for information on the hospital's behavioral health programs. Despite the increased interest, there's still no wait list to get into Aspire, Olaiz said.

Amid the expansion, hospital officials have pushed to make ASPIRE more widely accessible to students by allowing teens to take the program for academic credit. Last year, El Camino received a six-year accreditation for Aspire by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), meaning high school students can take the eight-week class and earn credits towards graduation.

Students in the program spend eight weeks learning about a multi-faceted approach to dealing with mental health disorders, including emotional regulation and coping skills through what's called dialectical behavioral therapy.

Barnard said accreditation has a special importance for Aspire. It not only breaks down another layer of stigma attached to mental health and adds a greater level of legitimacy to the program, but it helped prompt the Scrivners to launch the fundraising effort.

"Once the program received the accreditation and that sort of stamp of approval, that really closed the deal for them."


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.


6 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2017 at 4:16 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

As someone who, like the folks at Aspire, is working on behalf of our local teens, I'd like to thank them and thank everyone who made donations. Bless you!
Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Chairman, Save the 2,008

1 person likes this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 20, 2017 at 7:43 am

Thank you to El Camino Hospital and all of ASPIRE's donors for recognizing that mental health care is part of health care. Congratulations on this milestone.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

By Laura Stec | 21 comments | 1,417 views

Are We Really Up To This?
By Aldis Petriceks | 1 comment | 843 views

Couples: Initiators and Implementors
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 716 views

Don't be a ghost
By Cheryl Bac | 1 comment | 479 views

Joe Simitian talk: Listening to Trump's America: Bridging the Divide
By Douglas Moran | 6 comments | 454 views