DETROIT – The Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety announced a 15-year, $750,000 grant to the Friendship Circle of Michigan that will help the funding and growth of its UMatter program, which focuses on teen mental health.
The foundation, founded by a family with Michigan roots in memory of their son who died after struggling with social anxiety, began support of UMatter in 2017 with a five-year grant of $250,000. The grant is being extended for an additional 10 years, making it a 15-year investment.
The donation will allow UMatter to assume responsibility for the foundation’s day-to-day activities, including the social media presence that provides information and resources for those suffering with social anxiety.
“The UMatter program is exactly what is needed today to directly help teens struggling with social anxiety and other mental health issues,” said Jeff Kukes, Andrew Kukes’ father and chairman of the foundation. “Friendship Circle has shown us its ability to do this in a most caring and dedicated way.”
“This is the right home, with the right heart, for the family’s legacy,” said Lori Blumenstein-Bott, the foundation’s outgoing executive director.
Blumenstein-Bott first introduced the Kukes family to the organization as part of a search to find the right partner to maximize the foundation’s impact on individual lives and build community awareness.
“Less than 10 years ago, social anxiety was largely unknown,” Blumenstein-Bott said. “This was the nation’s first foundation solely dedicated to building awareness and understanding of that mental illness.”
“The support of the Foundation and the generosity of the Kukes family will allow UMatter to continue its growth in Michigan and beyond,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, co-founder and executive director of the Friendship Circle of Michigan. “Social anxiety will be a part of the conversation our program will have as teens discuss mental health with their peers, as part of the effort to eliminate stigma and make conversation about mental health as common and important as it is about physical health.”
“There’s real momentum with UMatter,” Blumenstein-Bott said. “UMatter has been adding schools throughout Oakland County and beyond. An incredible outreach this year for UMatter was to engage all school districts in Washtnenaw County, where superintendents committed to holding UMatter Weeks in their high schools. Sara Daniels and Rabbi Yarden Blumstein showed us true commitment that resonates with the Kukes family.”
“UMatter weeks create a meaningful mental health experience that is student led. It speaks to their issues. It’s an effective and powerful program that will honor Andy’s memory for the next generation,” Jeff Kukes said.