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County of Santa Clara Announces That 40 Schools Will Receive Grants for Behavioral Health Wellness Centers

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. — The County of Santa Clara announced Monday that 40 schools will receive funding through a $13.2 million grant program designed to dramatically expand the number of school-based wellness centers in the county and improve access to behavioral health resources.

The grants will fund 28 new wellness centers at middle and high schools in Santa Clara County as well as upgrades to 12 existing centers. Wellness centers provide a warm and welcoming space where students can unwind, receive counseling and get referrals to other health services. 

The wellness center expansion program, managed by the nonprofit Valley Health Foundation, addresses the significant mental health challenges facing Silicon Valley students. It is a central element of the Children’s Roadmap to Recovery, a County initiative spearheaded by County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors President Susan Ellenberg. 

“Even before the pandemic, we knew that levels of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental illnesses were on the rise among our youth. During the pandemic, those incidents skyrocketed,” Ellenberg said. “I don't want children or teenagers to be afraid to ask for help. I want our youth to know there is nothing wrong with them if they struggle with mental health and that there is support for them if they need it. The earlier we can intervene, the more preventative work we can do. And we have a much greater likelihood of staving off more significant mental illnesses later in life.”

The wellness centers will be staffed by an administrator who manages the space and a clinician who can do screenings and assessments, provide counseling, and make referrals to other services. The centers will have a range of activities and features, depending on the site, from books and games to yoga and music. Making the centers a fun place to hang out helps destigmatize behavioral health issues and normalize self-care. 

“One of our top priorities as a County is improving the lives of children and families, which we are accomplishing through a number of initiatives, including the expansion of wellness centers at county schools,” said County Executive James R. Williams. “We want to ensure that children get the resources they need at critical stages of their development, including the difficult transition period of adolescence. I’m grateful to County staff, community partners and donors for supporting this unprecedented expansion of behavioral health resources for our youth.”

Valley Health Foundation is administering the grant program in partnership with the County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Services Department. Zelia Faria Costa, director of the department’s Children, Youth and Family System of Care, said the wellness centers fit into a continuum of services the department provides, from prevention and early intervention to treatment and residential services.

“Access to services is really critical. We want to be sure that families, children and young people are able to get the services they need,” Faria Costa said. “Our hope is that the wellness centers, by providing prevention and early intervention, are able to help students before they need more intensive services.”

The initiative began in April 2023, when the County provided $100,000 to Valley Health Foundation to develop the program. The County delivered a major boost in August when the Board of Supervisors approved $10 million in additional funding. Half of the $10 million comes from federal coronavirus relief funds (the American Rescue Plan Act). The other half comes from state Mental Health Services Act funds for prevention and early intervention. The County Probation Department added $2 million to the effort.

Valley Health Foundation secured a $1 million donation from Sobrato Philanthropies and $80,000 from Shortino Family Foundation to fund additional schools, bringing the total funding to $13.2 million. 

“This program is desperately needed,” said Michael Elliott, president and executive director of Valley Health Foundation. “Our schools cannot address this crisis alone. I applaud the Board of Supervisors, Sobrato Philanthropies, and supporters of Valley Health Foundation for stepping up.” 

Roughly three-quarters of the funding will go to establishing new wellness centers, including staffing, materials and contracted services, while 10% will go toward improvements at existing centers. Fifteen percent pays for infrastructure at new or existing centers. 

The grant program is part of the County’s strategic vision to improve public health, provide safety net services for the community, and support the County’s continued COVID-19 response. The goal is to create a sustainable way to address the mental health and well-being of students.

There are currently at least 19 wellness centers at schools in Santa Clara County. One of those centers is at Monroe Middle School in San José, which is part of the Campbell Union School District. 

Dr. Shelly Viramontez, superintendent of the Campbell Union School District, said the center aligns with the district’s philosophy of educating the whole child. Helping students regulate their emotions, navigate the idiosyncrasies and gray areas of life, set goals and achieve them – all these things are just as important as academics in setting young people up for success, she said.

Ruth Stephens Radle, the principal at Monroe Middle School, said she has seen the school’s wellness center have a positive effect on students who use it.

“Students that I know access the wellness center, when I see them in class or out at lunch break, I see a student who is better connected to adults on campus. I see a student who advocates for what they need more quickly,” Stephens Radle said. “Whenever you see a student have the language to ask for support or advocate for a peer, you know that you’ve created an environment where students are gaining the skills they need to be productive adults.”

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued an advisory in 2021 that identified youth mental health as an urgent public health issue. The advisory declared that challenges such as social media, economic uncertainty and the COVID-19 pandemic have had a “devastating” effect on the mental health of young people. Even before the pandemic, the percentage of high school students nationwide who experienced persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, such that they couldn’t participate in regular activities, rose from 26% to 37%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The numbers in Silicon Valley are similar. Nearly one-third of middle- and high-school students in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties has experienced chronic feelings of sadness or hopelessness, according to the 2023 Silicon Valley Index, an annual report by the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies, the research arm of nonprofit Joint Venture Silicon Valley. One in eight middle- or high-school students have considered suicide, a percentage that is higher among female students and LGBTQ youth.

The wellness center expansion is one of many initiatives the County is pursuing to help children and families in the wake of the pandemic. Earlier this year, the County launched a $15 million grant program that enables childcare providers to renovate or reopen facilities and expand existing operations, serving a critical need in the community. In addition, the Board of Supervisors allocated $10 million to a trio of programs administered by nonprofit FIRST 5 Santa Clara County that are designed to increase and sustain the childcare and early education workforce.


The County of Santa Clara government serves a diverse, multicultural population of 1.9 million residents in Santa Clara County, Calif., making it more populous than 14 states in the United States. The County provides essential services to its residents, including public health protection, environmental stewardship, medical services through the County of Santa Clara Health System, child and adult protection services, homelessness prevention and solutions, roads, park services, libraries, emergency response to disasters, protection of minority communities and those under threat, access to a fair criminal justice system, and many other public benefits.

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