Elon parents make $250,000 endowment gift to Counseling Services

The generosity of George and Marla Theofel P’22 will expand mental health programs and services for all Elon students. Their gift is part of the Elon LEADS Campaign.

George and Marla Theofel P’22, of Dallas, have made a $250,000 gift to establish the Theofel Family Mental Health Endowment, which will provide programmatic support for Elon’s Counseling Services to broaden its reach and enhance services for all Elon students.

The Theofels said they felt impelled to make this gift following the unexpected death of their 11-year-old daughter Talia in 2014. Talia struggled with mental health challenges for much of her young life, particularly in school settings where services were lacking. The Theofels provided extensive outside counseling to Talia, but there were no school services to reinforce the private counseling the family provided.

The Theofels: Marla and George P’22 with Arianna ’22 and their English Bulldog, Jethro

“School was agonizing for her,” Marla recalled. “We had to put so much effort in as parents to try and help her, but there was nothing for her when it came to these kinds of services.”

The Theofels know that mental health challenges are also a reality for students when they move on to college. So they decided to endow a fund to expand the efforts of Elon’s Counseling Services office, which provides a wide range of services to address the emotional, social and academic needs of all students throughout their time on campus. Those services include psychological interventions, group and individual counseling, outreach and consultation services, and crisis response and assistance.

“This is something that is very important to us and dear to our hearts,” Marla said. “There are a lot of students who need support when they get to college. They’ve got things coming at them from all sides. They have to learn to be independent and interact with people they’ve never met and focus on their studies. For some students, it’s hard to make that transition and if they have challenges going into college, it’s compounded.”

“A lot of people didn’t appreciate what was going on with our daughter Talia, because it’s not a physical injury. It’s an invisible condition,” George Theofel said. “Those were the darkest of days and if we can spare one family the pain we went through by making this gift, then it will be worth it.”

Addressing the mental health and wellbeing of students has commanded unprecedented attention on college and university campuses nationwide, including at Elon, as students report increased anxiety and depression, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic uncertainty. The Theofel Family Mental Health Endowment will assist Elon’s ongoing efforts to educate students about the importance of their mental health, to empower them to ask for help when challenges arise and to provide them with access to services when needed.

The Theofel Endowment will provide funding for initiatives that focus on outreach, intervention and access to services, and that promote positive mental health outcomes for all students. Those opportunities include continued use of an anonymous mental health screening tool; hosting signature events on campus to promote mental health awareness; educational and marketing efforts to ensure all students are aware of Counseling Services programs; and assistance for students without health insurance or who are unable to afford out-of-pocket expenses for psychiatric care in the community. Counseling Services will also explore development of a student peer support program.

“We are grateful to the Theofel family for their generous investment in the mental health and wellbeing of Elon students,” said Anita Hodnett, director of Counseling Services at Elon. “These funds will enable us to continue to grow mental health programming at Elon and help students thrive while on campus and beyond.”

The decision to create the endowment was made by the entire family, including the couple’s daughter, Arianna ’22, who lost her younger sister during her first year in high school. Arianna went on to earn a degree in finance from Elon’s Martha and Spencer Love School of Business and graduated in May.

“Arianna’s experience at Elon was wonderful,” Marla said. “She understands the importance of making sure these services are accessible to students and that there’s no stigma attached to seeking help.”

“We have to get students to buy into the idea that it’s OK to talk to someone about their challenges,” George said. “We want to give students a safe harbor and help them get through tough periods and reset.”

In a recent survey of college undergraduates, Born This Way Foundation and the Mary Christie Institute reported that two-thirds (67%) of students surveyed said they had faced mental health challenges during the past 12 months. At the same time, these students recognized their own struggles, the need for support and the overall importance of mental health to their success.

Helping all students thrive by cultivating a culture of health and wellbeing is one of the top priorities of Boldly Elon, the university’s 10-year strategic plan, and the Elon LEADS Campaign. A university task force has also begun work on future plans surrounding wellness and wellbeing for students, faculty and staff.

In addition to their endowment gift, George and Marla Theofel have generously contributed to The Inn at Elon, Love School of Business, Elon’s Greatest Needs, Catholic Campus Ministry and Elon Day, the university’s biggest day of giving.

About the Elon LEADS Campaign

Now in its final year, Elon LEADS is the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the university’s history. Every gift to the university—including annual, endowment, capital, estate and other planned gifts—for any designation counts as a gift to the campaign, which will support students and strengthen Elon for generations to come. To learn more about how you can make an impact, visit www.elonleads.com.