Cece & Frank Cugliari | Investing in Mental Health in Appalachian Ohio
Frank and Christine “Cece” Cugliari have deep roots in Appalachian Ohio and a deep passion for the importance of mental health. Both born and raised in the region, they knew they wanted to give back in a way that would serve Appalachian Ohio and the mental health needs they know to be so pressing. With a fund at FAO, the Cugliari family started a fund to support mental health services while also raising awareness in the region for those who need it most.
Frank and Cece grew up in Tuscarawas County and Gallia County, respectively. They met at Marietta College, moved to Coshocton County, and have been together ever since. Now they are doing good in their communities and working through the the Saint Dymphna Fund they created to better the lives of young adults who are struggling with mental health.
Frank and Cece saw an opportunity when they came into some unexpected money. After a great deal of thought about what to do with their new-found gift, they decided they wanted to make a positive impact in the communities that shaped them into who they are today.
They set up the Saint Dymphna Fund, named after the patron saint of mental health, a donor-advised fund at the Foundation of Appalachian Ohio (FAO) that focuses on raising awareness and support for mental health in Tuscarawas, Gallia, and Coshocton counties.
“We could be the poster family for mental health,” shared Cece about how her family contends with bipolar disorder as well as depression. Their family is very close, and as a result, were able to openly communicate about their needs and find the help they needed. But they were very aware that there were many children who did not feel as comfortable talking to their parents, or any adult for that matter. They are also aware that mental health resources in Appalachian Ohio are scarce, and often difficult to find. The Cugliaris knew they wanted to help young people and raise awareness for mental health, so they reached out to FAO to get started.
Cece worked with FAO in the past as a board member. In fact, she was here in the earliest days as FAO was getting started. She understood FAO’s operations from the inside and wanted to work with FAO because she knew it could help the family invest in mental health in Coshocton, Gallia, and Tuscarawas counties, where the family’s roots run deepest. With FAO’s 32-county service area, the Foundation is able to work with multiple counties at a time and tailor efforts to fit a family’s charitable goals.
They wanted to work with local schools and organizations, and though they were passionate about the work they wanted to do, they were thoughtful about making their inaugural grant. At first, they didn’t really know where to start, until Kacie, their oldest daughter, was researching mental health programs in the three counties served by the fund and came across Youth to Youth (Y2Y), a peer to peer program at Tuscarawas Central Catholic High School, Frank’s alma mater. Y2Y is a program where students work together to promote mental health awareness and resources while letting other students know they aren’t alone and have someone, including peers their own age, to talk to.
“A student should feel like they have someone to go to,” says Frank. “It’s usually not until there is an issue that the problem is discovered. We want students to know how to deal with it, that there is help, and that they are not the only ones.”
This group already had a very strong foundation. Though Tuscarawas Central Catholic is a small high school, it has very strong participation in Y2Y with active students that are eager to help those around them. They found their first opportunity to give back, and the school being Frank’s alma matter made it all the more special.
After that, they hit the ground running. The Saint Dymphna Fund awarded a $1,000 grant to the program, where the students used money to put on events like Mental Health Night, where they invited parents, educators, and others in the community to come to a panel to learn more about mental health. They created t-shirts to raise awareness itself by providing the number to a hotline for students to call if they need some extra encouragement and services. They also had a weeklong mental health awareness week entitled “your presence is a present,” built off the Be Present campaign, a statewide initiative that promotes health and wellness to all citizens.
Because Tuscarawas Central Catholic serves a smaller student population, it allowed for the grant money to leave a larger impact on the students in the program. The students involved in Y2Y want to expand it to other high schools and grow the program even further. They’ve used the grant dollars to put together programs and resources to help other students and raise awareness in their local community.
“Philanthropy can be small,” shared Frank. “It can be as small as reaching out to others.” Cece, a professor who specializes in nonprofit management, added, “Philanthropy is about solutions, not band aids. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s all about the impact of the gift.”
By partnering with FAO, Frank and Cece are making a difference in the lives of children in their own community. They’re following their passion, and potentially saving lives in the process.
To learn more about the Saint Dymphna Fund or how you can support FAO and its mission to create opportunities for Appalachian Ohio’s citizens, please contact the Foundation at 740.753.1111.