Pirates Charities, AHN expand mental health services via 'Chill Mobile'

October 27th, 2022

Officials from Pirates Charities and Allegheny Health Network (AHN) were all smiles at Chartiers Valley High School on Wednesday morning when they unveiled a mobilized version of AHN’s Chill Project. Together, the two groups purchased and customized an RV, now known as Chill Mobile, that will travel to school districts throughout western Pennsylvania to greatly expand the reach of the program.

Offered through AHN’s Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Institute, and led by a team of behavioral health specialists, the Chill Project uses mindfulness-based exercises to equip students, teachers and parents with an evidence-based, standardized approach to identifying, discussing and managing stress, anxiety and other mental health concerns.

“School has always been a source of stress -- whether you are taking classes, teaching, or parenting a student -- and negative reactions to stress create a significant barrier to learning and growth,” said Dr. Will Davies, the founder and director of the Chill Project. “Our program has proven to be an extremely effective means of improving the health and well-being of participants, and we are super excited about the opportunity to further expand access to these services through this new mobile capability.”

Chill Mobile will offer students in grades K-12 a calming space where they can learn coping skills and participate in practical and interactive experiences, with the goals of improving individual mental health, extending the conversation into the larger community and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health treatment.

Among the features of the Chill Mobile vehicle are Pirates-themed programming including a virtual PNC Park experience, special messages from Pirates players such as pitcher JT Brubaker, Pirates-themed giveaways and more. Additional supporters of Chill Mobile include the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County, PNC and the Palumbo Charitable Trust.

Pirates president Travis Williams said the team’s decision to support Chill Mobile began with a conversation with Dr. Davies. Through that chat, Williams gained a better understanding of the Chill Project as well as the challenges it was facing.

“There are schools in underrepresented areas that just don’t have either the space or the resources to be able to launch the brick and mortar-based Chill Project,” Williams said. “So, we started talking about that and saying, ‘Why can’t we bring it to them on wheels?’ It really started with a conversation as simple as that. We talked about not only what’s going [on] with mental health -- trying to reduce the stigma and trying to bring resources to kids -- but how unique this program is, being able to put it on wheels and bring it to those schools that didn’t have access.

“[Pirates chairman] Bob Nutting was fully supportive and wanted us to dive in, with this being a program that has a real impact on kids. For the Pirates and Pirates Charities, it wasn’t just about funding the project, it was about being part of the project and helping to develop it.”

One of the recurring themes of Wednesday’s press conference was the importance of sharing with students the message that, “It’s okay not to be okay.” During his remarks, Dr. Davies gave a well-deserved tip of the cap to several Chill Project clinicians that were in attendance. Their efforts range from helping kids get through minor bumps in the road all the way to saving lives.

“We’re really trying to bring awareness to school communities that it’s okay to have conversations about how we’re doing emotionally just as it’s okay to have conversations about how we’re doing physically,” he said. “It’s all connected.”

“The Chill Project clinicians are on the front lines. They’re the real heroes in all of this,” Williams added. “They’re dealing with issues, getting kids to engage and saving lives -- and they’re doing it every day. They’re doing it in crisis situations, and they’re also helping kids learn coping techniques and how to relieve stress.”

AHN currently offers Chill Project programming in around 30 Pittsburgh-area schools, where specially designed “Chill Rooms” have been created to host students and staff seeking services. According to Davies, schools participating in the program so far have experienced tangible benefits that include reduced numbers of behavioral health incidents for students -- such as chronic absence, disruptive behavior, dropping out of school and feelings of hopelessness -- plus enhanced professional quality of life for educators and administrators and increased well-being for parents and caregivers.

“The need for community-based mental health services has never been more pressing, and we are extremely grateful to Pirates Charities, and our other partners, for their investment in and commitment to this unique endeavor,” said Allie Quick, chief philanthropy officer at AHN. “The AHN Chill Project has already made a tremendous difference in the lives of many, and our new mobile program will increase those numbers exponentially.”