The University of Montana campus

The University of Montana campus in Missoula is pictured in this file photo.

The University of Montana is celebrating a $1 million donation toward the expansion of its clinical psychology center.

The center both trains students in UM’s Clinical Psychology and School Psychology programs and provides mental health services for western Montana residents. Currently, it’s housed in a one-story, 35-year-old building on the south side of campus. UM has been eyeing a $5 million project to renovate it and add a second floor.

That goal recently became $1 million closer.

On Thursday, the university announced that UM alumni Summerfield “Sam” and Julie Baldridge had donated $1 million towards expansion of the center. Their gift will count towards another donor’s challenge gift that, when met, will put the fundraising effort more than halfway towards the $5 million goal. It’s part of the University of Montana Foundation’s seven-year, $400 million Campaign Montana effort.

“As we seek to provide much-needed support for our state and region, this gift hastens our ability to provide long-term mental health solutions for western Montana,” Jenny McNulty, interim dean of UM’s College of Humanities and Sciences, said in the press release.

Once fully funded, the enlarged center will “expand our scope of what we’re able to do in a lot of different ways,” said Raurie Birch, the center’s director. According to a press release, the enlarged and renovated building will include more treatment rooms with soundproofing and windows, and more assessment rooms. That should enable students and providers from different disciplines to work more closely together, and take the program from providing 40 to 60 client treatment hours per week to 200 client treatment hours per week.

“Basically, we’ll just have a whole lot more room to do more of what we do,” Birch said. Expanded mental health care is sorely needed in Montana, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and a shortage of mental health professionals in rural counties.

Birch said she and her colleagues hope to complete the fundraising in the next one to three years, and that this donation would inspire other donors to come forward. But she declined to give a specified timeframe. “That’s the million-dollar question,” she said, “no pun intended.”

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