Avielle Foundation Is Now The Avielle Initiative At University Of Colorado
The Avielle Foundation is relocating to Aurora, Colo., where it will have a new home as the Avielle Initiative at the National Mental Health Innovation Center (NMHIC) at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus. The news was announced earlier this week.
The Avielle Foundation was created seven years ago by Jennifer Hensel and the late Jeremy Richman after the death of their daughter, Avielle, along with 25 of her peers and educators in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on 12/14. It has grown to encompass an international constituency of scientists and supporters interested in how the brain’s chemistry, structure, and circuits lead to violence and compassion, and through that, developing knowledge, building compassion, and preventing violence through neuroscience research, community engagement, and education.
Both Hensel and Matt Vogl, executive director at the NMHIC, told The Newtown Bee that this decision serves both organizations, and more importantly, fulfills a mutual desire to see the initiative create internship opportunities for young scientists and innovative technology to prevent violence.
“On the surface, what we do isn’t exactly what the Avielle Foundation did, and neither of us were simply looking for someone else or to be someone else running the foundation,” Vogl said. “So we both came together over the concept of, hey, let’s do something new. So we spent about ten months looking at how we could take the core mission of the foundation and its advancing brain science, and our center’s focus on tech-driven solutions to behavioral and mental health challenges and violence prevention, including preventing suicide.”
Aligned With Mission
“This group is aligned in a way with our mission,” Hensel added. “They’re good at bringing and testing therapies in the mental health field in a way that we were lacking. And we had such a strong research component that we are now able to come in and bolster some of their research, too.”
Hensel said the organizations seemed to fit together nicely, and she will remain involved with the Avielle Initiative, furthering and honoring her late husband’s legacy as well as Avielle’s. In fact, the initiative will have a dedicated advisory board which will include three of the founders of the Avielle Foundation.
“The Avielle Foundation was created to foster an understanding of what leads someone to engage in harmful behavior, the risk factors, and conversely to identify and engender protective factors that lead away from violence and toward compassion, kindness, connection, community, and resilience,” Hensel said, adding that, “We chose the National Mental Health Innovation Center to continue our work because of their proven ability to implement science-driven solutions to promote brain health, public health, and community engagement.”
A partnership statement released to The Newtown Bee by Vogl amplifies some of the details.
“While the Foundation is closing, our legacy of building compassion and reducing violence will live on in projects at the newly launched Avielle Initiative, which will operate as a program within NMHIC,” the statement reads. “The partnership between NMHIC and the Avielle Foundation grew out of the recognition that our organizations approach work with deep passion, enduring hope, and unflinching dedication. We share a belief that real change can happen when organizations and communities work together to develop and implement science-driven solutions to promote brain health, create compassion, and ultimately reduce violence.”
Since its inception in 2015, Vogl said the NMHIC has come to believe that the best way to make widespread impact is by supporting the development of responsibly developed technologies that are scalable and safe, as well as scientifically developed and validated.
“Matt understands that this is brain science — this is research that has to happen,” Hensel said. “And his commitment to this and his connections to the tech industry over how they can innovate therapies among populations is so interesting to me. To have someone who loves the Avielle Foundation premise and idea, and who wants to shepherd that, not change it, provides a remarkable fit.”
Hensel said that after Jeremy’s suicide in early 2019, there was an instant void in the Avielle Foundation’s leadership because she was not a neuroscientist, and while their advisory board was strong and staffed with neuroscientists, she needed someone who could run the foundation.
“That’s different from having an advisory board, or a board of directors,” she explained. “I needed somebody who could speak the language like Jeremy did, and Matt has that capability.”
While the pandemic and Hensel’s responsibilities in Newtown have prevented her from traveling to Colorado to personally assist with transitional matters, she is adamant that Vogl and his associates must come to Newtown as soon as possible.
“It’s really important for me to have them come here to see and feel how our community is so supportive,” she said. “We feel the loss of the Avielle Foundation in Newtown, yet this is the way I see it flourishing. It’s always been an international organization with all of Jeremy’s contacts around the world, but I know it’s hard for Newtown to learn we are moving.
“The Avielle Foundation exists because of the support from this community,” Hensel continued. “We’ll always have a presence here even though it won’t be our address because this community means something very deeply to me — I have survived because of this community, and the Avielle Foundation was built because of the people here.”
The statement goes on to describe two major components of the Avielle Initiative.
Recruiting Interns, Fellows
First, consistent with their mission, NMHIC will lead Avielle Initiative projects that leverage technology based in science and evidence to create resources for researchers, clinicians, organizations, and individuals that improve the quality of clinical care, build empathy, empower people to improve their own well being, and create ways to connect people in order to promote health, prevent illness, and eliminate barriers to access and support.
Vogl said he is focusing on reaching out to key supporters and, beginning in January, developing a larger advisory group.
“Then we’ll start recruiting for the internship and fellowship applicants,” he said, “because the second component is the establishment of an endowment to help shape the careers of young scientists interested in increasing our understanding of brain health in order to inform the development of products and programs focused on building compassion and preventing violence in the name of Jeremy Richman.”
The paid internship will be awarded annually to a high school or undergraduate student and the fellowship will be awarded to an individual starting the post-doctoral phase of their research career.
NMHIC will start accepting applications for the internship and fellowship in the spring.
To learn more about the Avielle Initiative and Jeremy Richman Brain Health Internship and Fellowship program, visit mentalhealthinnovation.org.