UNC Paws, Brushes with Life receive $8-million donation

The UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health will use the private funding to support two of its main rehabilitation programs for adults who suffer from mental illness.

UNC Paws, Brushes with Life receive $8-million donation click to enlarge Joanne Ackerman (center) with Leslie Nelson, president of the Medical Foundation of North Carolina, and John Gilmore, MD, director of UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health.

January 31, 2018

Robeson County , NC native Joanne McGill-Ackerman visited her alma mater UNC-Chapel Hill last week and made an $8-million legacy gift to the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health (CECMH) within the department of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine. The money will help fund UNC Paws and UNC Brushes with Life Arts Program – two nontraditional interventions that use animal companionship and art to help individuals with mental illness flourish throughout treatment and beyond.

“We know these programs are effective ways to augment traditional treatment for individuals with mental illness,” said John Gilmore, MD, director of the CECMH and Thad and Alice Eure Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry. “We are so thankful that Mrs. Ackerman understands this and has been so incredibly generous with her donation. This will allow us to ultimately sustain and expand these important programs. ”

The mission of the center, which was established in 2009, is to better the lives of individuals with mental illness in North Carolina. The UNC PAWS and UNC Brushes with Life Arts Programs complement other Center treatment programs that include psychiatric services, therapy, supported employment, and assertive community treatment teams, serving patients in Orange, Chatham, Durham and Wake counties.

UNC PAWS (Peer Assisted Wellness Support) has provided animal-assisted therapy since 2014 as one of the center’s innovative community-based recovery and rehabilitation programs to assist people living with chronic mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and post-traumatic stress. The program began with bringing shelter dogs to the Farm at Penny Lane campus in Chatham County, home to the center’s recovery programs, where people with mental health conditions trained shelter dogs for adoption by community members. In 2016, UNC PAWS began an emotional support dog program to train and facilitate ownership of a trained pet for someone living with a chronic condition who could benefit from canine companionship. Future plans include partnering with a local non-profit to match veterans with shelter dogs trained as emotional support dogs to aid in each veteran’s journey to heal both physically and emotionally.

The UNC Brushes with Life Arts Program provides a stimulating environment for artistic instruction, gallery promotion, and personal expression for individuals with mental illness. Through the creation of visual art, poetry, film, and music, participants find healing and move toward recovery. By connecting with the larger community around their work, program participants use their art to promote a deeper understanding of mental illness.

Artists select a wide range of media to convey their ideas and feelings. They further their talents by participating in program-sponsored art classes. They can share their work in the Brushes with Life Gallery at the NC Neurosciences Hospital and in traveling exhibitions. Artists also participate in special projects, such as the Dog Arts Parade fundraiser.

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