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Spring 2003 | Volume 26, Number 2 | Features
Meeting Special Needs

Family Gift to SPU Benefits the Mentally Ill

Jacqueline and Lew Dickinson
Like many a promising student, Luke Dickinson began his studies at Seattle Pacific University eager to earn a degree and make a life for himself. But six weeks into his sophomore year, it all came crashing down. Luke was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Ahead was a lifelong battle against mental illness.

Far from his family and home in Alaska, Luke was hospitalized in Seattle. Though placed on medication, his condition worsened, and he dropped out of school. The illness had only begun to take its devastating toll.

“ We were fearful that our child would become a street person,” says Lew Dickinson, Luke’s father. “About a third of the homeless population in the United States is mentally ill.” Separated from their son by distance and the demands of the family business, the Dickinsons were at a loss as to what to do.

Former SPU Alumni Director Dick Frederick, familiar with the Dickinsons’ plight, went to visit Luke, encourage him and help him find the specialized care he would require for the rest of his life. “I have a daughter with similar challenges, so I can empathize,” says Frederick. “I felt it would help Luke to have a support base during the frequent peaks and valleys common to his illness.” Frederick maintains that connection today, meeting with Luke monthly for dinner and accepting his occasional help around the house. Luke has also worked part-time on campus.

The vital link forged with Seattle Pacific moved Luke’s parents to consider the similar needs of other families with loved ones suffering from mental disorders. The Dickinson Fellowship Program in Community Mental Health and Prevention has now become a reality at SPU through an initial gift of $250,000 — part of a long-term financial commitment by the concerned family. Other individual and family donors have also contributed to the project.

The Dickinson Fellowship will support selected students in psychology, marriage and family therapy, and the health sciences through tuition scholarships up to $8,000 and extra mentoring opportunities related to chronic mental disabilities. It will fund faculty development grants, community workshops and conferences, and training to help faculty and staff members identify issues of chronic mental disability among students on campus.

The University is also expanding its asset management through the Seattle Pacific Foundation (SPF) to include special needs trusts that provide for some help to long-term victims of mental illness. The Dickinsons rest even easier knowing that particular value to the church. By consulting with church leadership and laity, and providing them with educational materials and assistance, Brown sees the day when the church will more effectively come alongside individuals and families struggling with mental disabilities.

SPFC collaborates with the School of Health Sciences (SHS) to teach undergraduate and graduate students that engaging the culture involves service “to the least of these.” “The SPU Nursing Program focuses on treating the whole person, including mental as well as physical dimensions,” says Lucille Kelley, dean of SHS. “We treat the family as well as the patient. Our graduates are recognized for their high-tech and high-touch skills.”

Because of Seattle Pacific’s strong academic programs and the generosity of people such as the Dickinsons, the University is well-positioned to impact the area of mental health, says Bob McIntosh, vice president for university advancement. “This has tremendous potential for impact on families and the community.”


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