Is the Skip Viragh Foundation Stepping Up their Mental Health Giving?

This marks a departure for the Skip Viragh Foundation. The very generous, and very quiet foundation was set up to spend away the fortune of Maryland businessman Skip Viragh in 2000, just three years before he passed away from pancreatic cancer. It has been systematically giving to alleviate poverty, homelessness, and domestic violence, and to fund cancer research, ever since.

In the past, the SVF’s giving has been predictable: a few $1 million-plus gifts to big organizations like the Alliance for Lung Cancer, Fidelity Charitable Giving, or Johns Hopkins (check the $65 million the foundation gave JH earlier this year), and a plethora of smaller grants to community organizations for the anti-poverty stuff. So naturally, this week’s $13 million gift to a leading addiction recovery center made us sit up and take notice.

Father Martin’s Ashley, the addiction recovery center in question, is located in Havre-de-Grace, Maryland. Founded in 1983, Ashley has treated over 40,000 addicts and alcoholics, and it’s ready to build a new facility to bring its standard of care fully into the 21st century.

The new Skip’s Hall for Integrated Addiction Treatment will be a 44,000 square foot building. It provides not just a fresh setting, but a more fully realized, research-based recovery practice for the center. "Research has evolved dramatically in the last five to 10 years and we know much more about addiction as a brain disease as well as the role of co-occurring medical conditions, both physical and behavioral,” says Dr. Bernadette Solounias, M.D., vice president of treatment services at Father Martin's Ashley. “The new building will facilitate integrated, individualized treatment designed for the 21st century patient who requires a multi-disciplinary approach.”

Though the big gift to an area outside the SVF’s usual big-gift realm is plenty interesting, what really grabbed us is the shape of the SVF’s 2014 so far: over $75 million spent out in just two gifts. Is the SVF spending down? From 2008-2010, just eight gifts surpassed the million-dollar mark, and as far as we know, gifts in the tens of millions weren't a common occurence prior to 2014.

Maybe the SVF is stepping up their big-gift agenda. Maybe the endowment is just doing really well. Maybe they really are spending down. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see the numbers at the end of this year, and interesting to see if their foundational priorities are evolving more toward hospital and health center giving.