Joanne McGill-Ackerman had a special bond with her dog, Cascade. She also has a special bond with her hometown, Atlanta, where she says she encounters young people, many of whom suffer from mental health issues, sleeping on sidewalk benches and church steps on a near daily basis. And as a 1971 alumna with a degree in art, she has a bond with her alma mater, Carolina, whose UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental HealthOpens in new window (CECMH) is a leader in community-based rehabilitation. Many of the center’s recovery efforts align with her love for animals, art and helping people.
“I have empathy for the loneliness that must be an everyday experience for those — people and animals — who have the additional stress of having no one in their lives to trust, hug and to love and who question where their next meal will come from.”
In January 2018, McGill-Ackerman made an $8-million legacy gift to CECMH within the department of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine. The money will help fund UNC PawsOpens in new window and UNC Brushes with Life Arts ProgramOpens in new window – two nontraditional interventions that use animal companionship and art to help individuals with mental illness flourish throughout treatment and beyond.