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Alumna partners with development team to raise money for neurological diseases through social media

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Alumna partners with development team to raise money for neurological diseases through social media

Jennifer DiVittorio.

17 October 2018


Watching a parent rapidly deteriorate from an unexpected and mysterious illness can leave a person feeling devastated and helpless. For Jennifer DiVittorio, her own experience observing both her parents’ decline has been no exception. Her mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and her father from a rare form of Parkinson’s called multiple system atrophy.

That is why DiVittorio, a 1996 graduate of Penn State, with a bachelor’s degree in English and minors in Spanish and international studies, created the Mark and Sharon Robb Research Fund in 2016 to support research on neurodegenerative diseases. In 2017, she established the Robb Family Graduate Fellowship, which supports graduate students who exhibit academic excellence and whose research focuses on brain repair.

On November 28, 2017, a day known informally as “Giving Tuesday,” DiVittorio took her philanthropy a step further by encouraging others to give to the cause of neurodegenerative research. An executive consultant of a Rodan + Fields business, which sells skincare products through Facebook, DiVittorio used her social media skills and connections on Facebook to raise awareness of the Mark and Sharon Robb Research Fund in the Eberly College of Science and to entice additional donations.

Jennifer DiVittorio's familyFor example, she posted: “Honored to have my parents’ research fund chosen by Penn State’s Eberly College of Science for Giving Tuesday! Please join me as we raise as much as we possibly can today, in their honor, for research on brain repair in patients with neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, multiple system atrophy, stroke, and spinal cord injury! I have already committed to match our first $2,500 donations and hope to raise at least $5k TODAY only! Every dollar counts!”

In turn, her Facebook friends spread the word. One wrote: “So impressed by what my friend and sorority sister, Jennifer Robb DiVittorio, has done in honor of her parents and for brain repair research as her family struggles to deal with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. If giving is in your nature, consider supporting the research fund in her parents’ name this Giving Tuesday (or any day!).”

By the end of Giving Tuesday, DiVittorio helped to raise an additional $14,504 from 104 individuals for her endowment. The dollar amount was among the top six highest received for a single cause on Giving Tuesday across the University, seventh in total donors. In the days following the event, an additional amount of over $10,000 in gifts was donated!

“The effectiveness of Jenn’s social media campaign, coupled with the incentive she provided, set the stage for success,” said Doug Cavener, Verne M. Willaman Dean of the Eberly College of Science. “Her campaign has greatly increased public awareness and attention to the work currently underway at Penn State, which will surely result in continued advances in the understanding and treatment of brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.”

DiVittorio has continued her work to help promote research on Parkinson’s disease by partnering with PushUps4Parkinsons, an awareness campaign that uses social media showing people doing pushups to improve the lives of caregivers and people with Parkinson’s.