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Purdue Receives $5 million Lilly Endowment grant to support Military Family Research Institute

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A $5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. will provide continued support during the next three years for the work Purdue University’s Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) does to improve the lives of military families and veterans.

This grant, which includes $3.5 million in outright funding and $1.5 million in matching funds, will help MFRI enhance its robust support networks. The grant period is from March 1, 2023, to June 30, 2026. 

“We at MFRI are honored and humbled by this funding,” said Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, MFRI director and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science in Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences. “Over the past 16 years, support from Lilly Endowment has made it possible for MFRI to deeply understand the vulnerabilities – and the resilience – of military and veteran families and to quickly develop and test new ways to help them confront the challenges and barriers placed in their way. We are excited about the opportunities ahead and look forward to expanding our work with partners at Purdue, across Indiana and around the country.”

Specifically, the grant will assist military and veteran families by:

• Supporting their military communities by cultivating continuity between military and civilian organizations, building and sustaining linkages among the systems surrounding military families, and promoting synergy in their efforts.

• Strengthening the motivation and capacity of their civilian communities to support military and veteran families through improved preparedness and coordination.

• Generating important new knowledge about their needs and circumstances.

• Assisting veterans as they transition to civilian life.

• Influencing pertinent programs, policies and practices by initiating, building and sustaining productive working relationships with existing and potential partners, while also raising awareness and shaping the thoughts and actions of the broader community.

• Growing and sustaining vibrant learning across all focus areas, with the goal of enhancing professional opportunities for veterans and military families.

“MFRI has demonstrated scholarly excellence for more than two decades, conducting groundbreaking studies that influence programs, practices and policies,” said Mung Chiang, Purdue University president. “Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth has earned an international reputation as a scholar who has led MFRI in developing innovative research and programs that have received numerous awards at Purdue and nationally. We are proud to serve as such an important resource for supporting the quality of life for military and veteran families.”

With guidance from MacDermid Wadsworth, MFRI was created at Purdue in 2000. The organization works to expand opportunities for military members, veterans and their families by providing research to help mental health providers, public policymakers, employers and leaders in higher education better understand the issues affecting the military community. This includes helping civilian leaders see the value of bringing military and veteran families into community leadership roles. 

MFRI uses support from Lilly Endowment and other funders to strengthen the capacity of community organizations and systems to promote and build the resilience of military and veteran families. Innovations created by MFRI and its partners are operating across the country in several key areas: 

• Policy: The Measuring Communities program provides stakeholders in cities, towns and rural areas across the U.S. with data that supports good decision-making about how best to support military and veteran families.

• Behavioral health: The Star Behavioral Health Providers program makes it easier for military and veteran families to connect with well-trained therapists in their local communities. The Reaching Rural Veterans program brings community organizations together to address food and housing insecurity among high-need veterans in rural areas.

• Higher education: The Focus Forward Fellowship program promotes academic and career achievements among female student veterans nationwide. MFRI collaborates with faculty and provides learning opportunities for students in diverse disciplines ranging from computer graphics technology and data science to counseling and human development and family science.

• Programming: In communities across Indiana, MFRI brings together clinicians, community leaders and legal experts at the annual Battlemind to Home Summit to educate them about the newest scientific evidence, programs and policies that will help them address needs in the military and veteran communities. Through the annual Barbara Thompson Excellence Award competition, MFRI brings researchers and practitioners together to “narrow the gap between the laboratory and the living room.”

• Collaboration: MFRI partners extensively with military and government organizations as well as national, state and local nonprofits to help them do their work better through improved preparedness and coordination, with strong attention to relevant scientific evidence and data.

“Veterans and military families have done so much for the benefit of our country,” said N. Clay Robbins, Lilly Endowment’s chairman and CEO. “Their challenges and aspirations are much better understood because of MFRI’s outstanding research and analysis, which helps government and military leaders and concerned citizens know how to help veterans and their families lead more satisfying lives. Lilly Endowment is pleased that its support will help MFRI continue and enhance its important research efforts as well as the programs it has developed for the benefit of veterans and military families.”

Individuals or organizations interested in doubling the impact of their gifts in support of MFRI’s efforts to assist veterans and military families should contact Jim Priest, director of foundation relations at Purdue for Life Foundation, at to learn about matching opportunities through Lilly Endowment’s grant. 

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