University News

Western New England University Awarded $240,000 in ARPA Funds to Expand Mental Health First Aid Program

Published: December 06, 2023 | Categories: All News
ARPA press conference in Springfield MA

Western New England University (WNE) has taken a significant step forward in mental health advocacy and education, having been awarded a grant of $240,000 from the City of Springfield’s Higher Education American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Fund. This substantial funding is earmarked for the expansion of the university’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Program, a key initiative in fostering mental wellness and resilience within the community.

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing introduced MHFA to the United States in 2008. MHFA is a course that teaches individuals how to identify, understand, and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges. The training gives people in our communities the skills needed to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use challenge or experiencing a crisis. Through role-playing and simulations, the course demonstrates how to assess a mental health crisis; select interventions; provide initial help; and connect people to professional, peer, and social supports as well as self-help resources. 

In the time Western New England University brought MHFA to campus, nearly 425 faculty, staff, students, coaches, and parents or guardians have become certified in MHFA, and 14 have completed training as instructors.  

“I am grateful to Congressman Richard Neal, Mayor Domenic Sarno, and Community Development Officer Tim Sheehan for this important funding that not only expands the Mental Health First Aid program but underscores WNE’s commitment to fostering a campus environment where every individual feels seen, heard, and supported,” said WNE President Robert E. Johnson. “Mental well-being is the cornerstone of academic and personal success, and with this generous support, we are breaking down barriers, reducing stigma, and building a stronger foundation for the holistic growth of our students. Together, we are shaping a future where mental health is prioritized, and each member of our community is equipped with the tools and compassion needed to navigate life's challenges. This investment isn't just financial; it's an investment in the well-being of our campus, a testament to our shared responsibility, and a stride toward a brighter, healthier future for all." 

Western New England University will use this funding in a two-phased approach to provide MHFA training to the Springfield community: 

  1. Train the trainers: With 14 individuals already certified to teach the Adult MHFA course, we look to add more trainers to our teaching arsenal. For those who are already trainers in Adult MHFA, we look to have them complete certification in the youth and teen program, as well as any number of the specialty programs.   
  2. Bring training to Springfield: We see these trainers being able to bring the MHFA program to elementary and high school students, public safety officials, and fire/EMS. 

Dr. Kam Capoccia, Clinical Professor of Community Care at WNE's College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences said, “I am incredibly grateful and thankful for the support from Mayor Sarno, his administration, and the City of Springfield. The Higher Education ARPA Funds will expand Mental Health First Aid in the Springfield community and help break down the barriers and stigma associated with mental health challenges. Mental Health First Aid is a groundbreaking skills-based course that gives people the tools to identify, understand, and respond to someone who might be struggling with a mental health or substance use challenge — and connect them with appropriate support and resources when necessary. Together, in our schools, in our community, in our workplace, and in our homes, we can learn how to better support each other.” 

WNE’s goal is to have at least 35% of the campus certified in MHFA within the next three years.