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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The SK Wellness support group has fallen victim to a lack of funding because of the pandemic, but local leaders have ensured that a grant the group received will continue to help young people in town.

The Town Council on May 24 unanimously approved a request from SK Wellness to move its town grant funding for 2021-22 to the Chris Collins Foundation.

The funds would support two South Kingstown High School youth groups, Rebels Inspiring Positive Lifestyles (RIPL) and Peer 2 Peer.

By the time SK Wellness made the request for $10,000 from the town, it was struggling financially because of a steep drop in fundraising during the pandemic.    

Unable to secure enough operating funds, the group’s board of directors voted to dissolve SK Wellness later this year. The board also voted to appropriate any remaining funds to The Chris Collins Foundation to be used strictly for programming for the RIPL and Peer 2 Peer groups.

The nonprofit Chris Collins Foundation is named for 20-year-old South Kingstown High School alumnus Chris Collins, who died by suicide in March 2018 after a three-year battle with anxiety and depression.

“The Chris Collins Foundation has been a close community partner of ours and has supported the efforts of both RIPL and Peer 2 Peer in the past,” SK Wellness Executive Director Mary-Kathleen Whitten told the council in a letter co-signed by Mark Collins and SK Wellness leadership.

“The foundation is the organization responsible for bringing the Peer 2 Peer program to South Kingstown and is in a position to be able to continue the guidance of these groups to allow the youth programming to continue,” Whitten said. “We have met with The Chris Collins Foundation Board and have been working with Mark Collins to ensure a smooth transition for the youth programming to continue in South Kingstown.”

SK Wellness wrote the grant specifically to support the social-emotional well-being of youth in South Kingstown.

“The pandemic has led to new layers of stress, increased feelings of isolation, and decreased ability of students and community members to utilize former coping mechanisms,” Whitten said.

SK Wellness said in a message to the community that as of May 28, it no longer had funds to carry out its mission.

“While we are saddened by the inability to continue to fund our work within the community and schools, our hope for continued advocacy for mental health education, support and programming is bolstered by our community partnerships,” the message said.

Formed as a nonprofit in 2019 to continue the work SK Partnership for Prevention provided for the community for more than 10 years, SK Wellness advocated for mental health and wellness for the entire South Kingstown community through youth programs, parenting workshops, professional development for educators and community-building programs for all ages.

“We dedicated ourselves to teaching children and adults how to reduce and cope with stress, connecting people with community resources and creating opportunities for connection,” the group said.

SK Wellness members also encouraged the community to support the Chris Collins Foundation in the future.

“Thankfully, these amazing students will be able to continue to provide positive peer engagement and support within the high school. If you have been an SK Wellness supporter and believe in our mission, we encourage you to now support the Chris Collins Foundation so that these youth groups can thrive and, potentially, grow to younger students and other schools.”

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