Opening Doors for Student Mental Health: The Ruderman Family Foundation

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An Interview with the Ruderman Family Foundation's Sharon Shapiro

Through a robust partnership and multi-year investments totaling nearly $1 million, the Ruderman Family Foundation has been a driving force behind the expansion of The Brookline Center’s bryt program across Massachusetts.  

Bryt is a school-based mental health program that supports students (and their families) who have experienced a disruption in their education related to a mental health condition. Today, more than 50% of Massachusetts public high school students have access to bryt in their school. The program has also been adopted by 40 middle and elementary schools statewide. More than 90% of students who participate in bryt complete their grade or graduate. 

“bryt is deeply grateful to the Ruderman Family Foundation for its incredible support over the past seven years. It’s helped us dramatically accelerate the number of students and families in Massachusetts public schools able to access bryt,” said Paul Hyry-Dermith, bryt National Director.  

As Community Liaison and Trustee, Sharon Shapiro champions the Ruderman Family Foundation’s commitment to critical issues like the mental health crisis and disability inclusion. We recently spoke with Sharon to dive deeper into what inspires the Foundation’s support of bryt and learn more about their overarching philanthropic vision. 

What inspired the Ruderman Family Foundation to invest so significantly in The Brookline Center’s bryt program?  

Bryt is one of our first partnerships in mental health and one of which we are incredibly proud. We first partnered with the Center on Bryt Notes, a report that documents how bryt transforms school culture. Once we saw the impact in the schools and got a sense of how well the program was working and the professionalism of the staff and leaders, we were prepared to make a larger investment. Bryt was well ahead of its time and had an established model already back in 2017. We visited several local bryt programs and were quite impressed; it was a working model, already expanding in schools.  

What sets bryt apart from other mental health initiatives?  

Bryt has a highly talented team, with in-depth knowledge of mental health issues. They know not only how to work with the schools but also how to secure state funding by educating legislators about the importance of the work. The Ruderman Family Foundation has a rich mental health portfolio, and we see many exciting and innovative ideas, but some programs struggle with implementation. With bryt, the model and implementation go hand in hand, as we saw when bryt seamlessly integrated their program in Greater Boston Jewish day schools.  

Can you share a personal story or experience that illustrates the importance of the bryt mission and its impact on the community?  

I watched bryt in action when my daughter was at Brookline High and was fortunate to benefit from some of their services. I saw firsthand how supportive they were. I was really impressed by how aware they were of the importance of providing parental support and how good they were at it. This was seven years ago, when no one was asking how the parents were doing. Today, the family is a very important player in the therapeutic process, but bryt was among the first to understand and treat family support as a central pillar of the model.  

How would you describe to someone who hesitates to seek help for their mental health problems the difference that a program like bryt can make in their lives?  

No one needs to struggle alone. There are many resources and people available to help. Bryt professionals in the school system serve as resources for social workers and therapists, helping not only the kids but the whole school—administrators, educators, students, even those just dropping in for help. They’re an asset for any school; simply knowing that the resources are on hand when needed. At the Ruderman Family Foundation our aim is to expand these services not just across high schools, but beyond high school. 

As a trustee of the Ruderman Family Foundation, what message do you have for our readers about the importance of supporting mental health awareness?  

The need is immense and growing. At the Foundation, we’re trying to cope with it through prevention, initiatives aimed at easing the transition from high school to college, as well as educator training and support. Thankfully, we live in a state where institutions are prepared to support our children. Bryt has really led the way, and everyone knows about their gold star model.  

Last, how does your work as a trustee and a parent of three young adults shape both roles?  

I understand this issue both on a professional and a personal level, not only through my daughter but also family members who have struggled with mental health and continue doing so. Having experienced it personally, I want to be there to help others and help improve the system. We can do our part to make things better for young people.