Maternal-Child Health Program launched with $2-million gift

York University research concerning the relationship between early life development and later physical and mental health has received a $2-million boost thanks to a recent gift from the Lillian and Don Wright Foundation.

The money will be used to support The Lillian Wright Maternal-Child Health Scholars Program within York’s Faculty of Health. The gift will provide annual support to graduate and undergraduate scholarships in the area of maternal and child health; fund travel costs for scholars to present research findings; and will create a learning academy. In honour of the gift, the Office of the Dean, Faculty of Health, has been renamed the Lillian Wright Executive Suite. 

Above: From left, Paul Marcus, president & CEO of the York University Foundation; Priscilla Meighen Wright; Bramilee Dhayanandhan, Lillian Wright Maternal-Child Health Scholarship recipient; and Faculty of Health Dean Harvey Skinner unveil the dedication plaque for the new Lillian Wright Executive Suite, Office of the Dean, Faculty of Health, in the Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies Building

"The Lillian Wright Maternal-Child Health Scholars Program will be a catalyst for engaging outstanding undergraduate and graduate students in interdisciplinary education and research in the field of maternal and child health,” said York’s Faculty of Health Dean Harvey Skinner. “An exciting innovation will be the formation of a learning academy drawing together current and past recipients of the new scholarship and other potential young scholars who will be mentored by senior academics, professional leaders and junior faculty.” 

"I want to express my gratitude on behalf of York University to the Lillian and Don Wright Foundation for this most generous gift," said York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. "York University is blessed to have generous benefactors who help us dream and grow. This gift will help enhance the undergraduate and graduate experience at the Faculty of Health, and that will help us better serve our communities."

The Lillian Wright Maternal-Child Health Scholars Program has awarded its first scholarships to four undergraduates and four graduate students from each of the Faculty’s four units: Health Policy & Management, Kinesiology & Health Science, Nursing and Psychology. The four graduate student recipients were all in attendance at an event announcing the gift April 30 on York’s Keele campus: Bramilee Dhayanandhan (Psychology), Anna German (School of Nursing), Michael Miceli (School of Health Policy & Management) and Ban Al-Sahab (School of Kinesiology & Health Science). The undergraduate recipients will be announced later this spring.

Above: Members of the Wright family Kathy Koppisch (Ieft), Christopher Wright, Louise Donnelly, Liam Scott and Priscilla Meighen Wright, outside the newly dedicated Lillian Wright Executive Suite, Office of the Dean, Faculty of Health, in the Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies Building 

Dhayanandhan, a graduate student in clinical developmental psychology, spoke on behalf of the inaugural award winners. As a native of the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, she is personally aware of the risk factors – poverty, stress, trauma and depression – encountered by young people in the area and the potential benefits of a program such as this. “The bond which forms between a mother and her young child, the development of a secure attachment, and the cultivation of resilience will really have a great impact on whether that bond is going to be sturdy or vulnerable. This program will contribute to the development of tools to prevent infant and child abuse and improved treatments and models for high-risk families.”

Right: Scholarship recipient Bramilee Dhayanandhan (left) with Priscilla Meighen Wright

Priscilla Meighen Wright, daughter of Lillian and Don Wright, spoke on behalf of the Wright family. “Mother would have loved this. She loved babies and wanted to make life better for them and their mothers,” she said.

“The Lillian and Don Wright Foundation, and the Wright and Meighen families have a distinguished track record of supporting education, health care and the arts,” said Paul Marcus, president & CEO of the York University Foundation. “We are proud of our association with them and are grateful for their support of the vision of York’s Faculty of Health. This generous pledge will have a tremendous impact on maternal-child health, York students and, by extension, society as a whole.”

Left: Douglas Peers, dean of Graduate Studies (left); James Love, president, Lillian and Don Wright Foundation; Joanne Love; and Susan Mullin, VP development, York University Foundation

The $2-million gift represents a significant contribution to York to the Power of 50, the largest fundraising campaign in York’s history. York has received more than $150 million in pledges to date toward the University’s goal of $200 million.

The Faculty of Health at York University has an ambitious mission to be an integrative force for promoting health – locally and globally. Its vision is to keep more people healthier longer by educating future leaders in redefining and advancing health and human science.