Trone Center for Mental Fitness dedicated as ‘innovative hub’ for student care
In a way, counseling services at the Trone Center for Mental Fitness begin as soon as you walk through the door. Before you even see a counselor, you can feel the calming effects of the newly renovated space.
The walls are covered in soothing blues and off-whites, with some showcasing work by local artists. Large windows introduce natural light and integrate the campus’s natural beauty. The new LED circadian lighting system can be adjusted to enhance the body’s natural rhythms and promote alertness and serenity.
“A beautiful, well-curated place creates a healing environment,” said Allyson Brathwaite-Gardner, associate director of the counseling center, before the official dedication ceremony on Nov. 11. “When you come to explore what’s in your mind, you want a place that’s aesthetically pleasing, calming, integrated.”
Aesthetics are the most immediately evident change in the counseling center, but the renovation – made possible by a $10 million gift from David ’77 and June Trone – reflects a commitment to a deeper transformation, said Furman President Elizabeth Davis, opening the ceremony.
“The space is beautiful, inviting and conducive to healing,” she said. “But solving the growing demand for mental health care requires the center to serve as a hub of innovation in how we deliver care and how we educate our students.”
The gift will fund positions, including a health promotions coordinator dedicated to providing programs, and education and support for students’ emotional, social, spiritual, physical, financial, career, academic and environmental wellbeing. The facility also offers accommodations for students with sensory needs.
In April, Furman launched Clearly Furman, the Campaign for Our Third Century, the university’s $426 million comprehensive campaign. The Trones’ gift supports the funding priority devoted to wellness, belonging and community. The gift also created the Hillel Endowment Fund to expand and enhance the Furman Hillel to foster a more vibrant Jewish life and offer students a welcoming place to form community.
Dedicated to resilience and well-being
In any given year, Davis noted, 25% of Furman’s student body uses the counseling center.
“We’re trying to expand that other 75%,” said Tom Baez, director of the counseling center. “Not necessarily because they’re in crisis, but because of the idea of resilience. Everybody can benefit from developing your mental structure.”
Thanks to the renovation, which created several new rooms and offices, the counseling center can now begin offering group meetings and other expanded services, Baez said. And even the new name can reduce the stigma of seeking help.
“I really like that we’re using the term ‘fitness,’” Davis said. “‘Health’ is a state of well-being, and we’re all familiar with the need to keep up our physical health. ‘Fitness’ can be seen as the activity required to achieve a state of well-being. We want students to be mentally healthy, resilient and adaptable to change in the face of adversity by being mentally fit. Now they have access to the resources they need, thanks to the Trone family.”
Besides counseling services, students can also take advantage of the online TAO Tools self-help platform and other support services, including a crisis hotline (864-294-3031, #3), said Baez. Students are introduced to mental fitness through the Pathways Program, and student organizations such as Paladin Peer Support promote well-being on campus.
Prioritizing mental health
Trone, an emeritus member of Furman’s Board of Trustees, has made mental health a legislative priority as a member of Congress from Maryland, speaking candidly about his nephew’s death from a fentanyl overdose. The family’s gift included funds for the counseling center’s renovation and established the Trone Family Endowed Fund for Student Mental Health and Well-being.
“It’s an honor for me to be here and see the work that my father has done in helping students,” said Julia Trone ’12, a school-based therapist in Maryland. “Furman holds a very special place in my family’s heart, and we’re so glad to hear that this addition to the school has already started to make an impact on students.”
The counseling center had certainly made an impact on her, the alumna admitted.
“I wish this was here when I was here,” she laughed. “I’m wondering if they’re hiring.”