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Read how the Marvin family honors their loved one, Max, by educating others about the importance of mental health.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a crisis, please call or text 988, Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or text MN to 741741. Talk to trained counselors who care, 24/7/365.

Max Marvin was a shining light.

He loved to play sports such as baseball, golf and hockey — his family’s favorite sport. Max also enjoyed the outdoors. He loved to fish and hunt and aspired to have a guiding business near his family’s cabin. Even at the age of 19, the Warroad native was always willing to help those in need.

“I think that the other thing that was unique about Max was his personality,” said Max’s cousin, Conway Marvin. “He was pretty well liked. Max remembered all the people he met and when he would go fishing and catch extra walleye, he would oftentimes deliver some to the older couples in the community, so they could have some fresh fish.”

His family and community were shocked and devastated when he lost his life to suicide in 2018. To honor Max’s life and keep his legacy alive, his family established a donor advised fund named the Max Foundation to provide mental health awareness education to youth.

Establishing a Giving Legacy

“I was involved in a lot of the activities with the family after Max’s death,” Conway said. “We met with Shannon Gahagan [their philanthropic advisor] and Elizabeth McCray [nonprofit strategies manager] in the spring of 2019 and made the decision after that meeting to launch a donor advised fund, and we haven't looked back.”

Since then, the Max Foundation has grown to become a community advised fund, with a group of advisors, including the family and Warroad community members who work to ensure that mental health is viewed like any other illness or ailment.

“Our goal is to create awareness so that the stigma around mental illness is diminished,” said board member and Max’s cousin, Nick Marvin. “I think ultimately the hope is that people understand how real and how common it is so that it becomes like if you break a leg, you go get a cast. Or if you are sick, you go to the doctor and you get help. We know that if people communicate and reach out to get help the odds of something bad happening goes down significantly.”

We know that if people communicate and reach out to get help the odds of something bad happening goes down significantly.

Nick Marvin, Board Member of The Max Foundation

Mental Health Awareness for Youth

The Max Foundation has created mental health education and awareness in Warroad and other parts of Minnesota by implementing two programs.

The first is Project 11, a program started by the Winnipeg Jet’s True North Youth Foundation focused on educating youth grades K-12th about mental health. Created to honor #11, Rick Rypien, former player of the Winnipeg Jets and the Manitoba Moose, who died by suicide, the program aims to help youth develop the understanding that they can positively influence their own mental wellness by learning skills and adopting healthy coping strategies.

“Hockey actually connected us with Project 11 and the True North Foundation,” Conway said. “Max's sisters Lisa and Layla played hockey at the University of North Dakota, and one of their teammates happened to be the daughter of Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman. When we talked to Mr. Chapman and Mr. Greene who oversees their True North Foundation about Project 11, they gave us access to what we wanted to know about the program, and we’ve never looked back.”

Thanks to the Max Foundation, Project 11 is in 12 schools in Minnesota and North Dakota, with plans to expand to five more.

Helping Minnesota Coaches Better Serve Student Athletes

The second program the Max Foundation introduced is the Coaches Care Project, led by Crookston based trainer and facilitator Tim Denney.

This program provides coaches with training on how to talk about mental health with their student athletes. The purpose is to build awareness around “upstream suicide prevention,” by building a culture that reduces isolation for all students, improves the wellbeing – both emotional and physical – of all students, and providing a more pro-social context in which students can live and thrive.

“A coach is an important part of student athletes’ lives and has a different role than a mom or a dad or a teacher or anybody else in their life,” said Nick.

“Especially at the high school level, a coach might spend more time with a player than a teacher, practicing and traveling, which allows them to have a little different pulse on their student athletes. It’s important for them to be able to help when needed, and what we found was a lot of coaches were having situations where conversations were focused less on sports and more on their student-athletes' mental health. Coaches Care gives them the tools they need to help those students.”

What we found was a lot of coaches were having situations where conversations were focused less on sports and more on their student-athletes' mental health.

Nick Marvin, Board Member of The Max Foundation

After seeing the success of Coaches Care in Warroad and Roseau, the Max Foundation was approached by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) to implement the program statewide.

“In February of 2023 I was introduced to Associate Director Charlie Campbell of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL),” Conway said. “One thing led to another, and we formed a partnership with the MSHSL to create an online mental module that would be mandatory for all the coaches in the state at the high school level.”

Tim Denney and the Max Foundation quickly realized that one module wasn’t enough to adequately train coaches on mental health, so they developed a plan to implement four modules. So far, they have delivered three modules, with plans to have the fourth in place by the end of the year.

“Hopefully we can touch one child or one adolescent and help them make a different decision when they get into a trying time emotionally,” said Conway. “If you think of what we do, it’s broken down into three components.”

  • Prevention
  • Intervention
  • Postvention

“Project 11 is prevention because it offers youth the educational tools they need,” Conway said. “Coaches Care is intervention because it gives the coaches the tools and the skills they need if in a crisis. What we’re hoping to add now is postvention, when there's a suicide in the community or when there's a suicide in school. When that happens, what do we do? How do we help? We don't want to plan for those, but unfortunately, it is the reality of where we are at right now, and it feels like we're not prepared.”

Expanding Their Impact

Looking toward the future, the Max Foundation’s board has been discussing the addition of a scholarship program. The goal of the program would be to help grow the number of mental health professionals in the area and state by providing financial support for education.

“We feel very fortunate about the relationship we have with Shannon,” Conway said. “The Foundation has made it easy for us to go out and focus on the things that are important and fit our mission. We don’t have to worry about some of the things on the financial side. I don't know that we would be accomplishing what we have without the Foundation.”

If you are interested in opening a donor advised fund or learning about other fund opportunities, contact a member of our Philanthropic Services team to support you in your giving priorities.

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