Emergency Funding coming soon

Brenda Echeverria, Staff Writer

Life is full of unexpected surprises, and something always happens at the worst time. However, for some low income undergraduate students, surprises sometimes come in the form of unpleasant financial surprises, which then pose huge problems to their personal and academic well being.

Lauren Smith, Director of Adult Learning at UW-W, has seen these cases before. That is why Smith applied for, and won, a 315,000 dollar grant from Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and Affiliates that is now known as the UW-Whitewater Emergency Fund.

The Whitewater Emergency Fund is available to low-income undergraduate students with an expected family contribution of 7,000 dollars or less. An application form needs to be assessed by a committee to determine whether a student is eligible or not. If approved, students are able to receive up to 1,000 dollars based on their needs.

“What we have found with some students is that they do their best to pay everything they can and then they are out of money for food and gas. So we’ve been able to give money for food and gas to students who have spent all their money on their other bills and can’t work many hours because they are doing an internship or field placement” said Smith.

Smith also knows students who have to take care of ill parents or who suffer financially after the loss of a parent.  She is aware of the challenges some students face and understands that sometimes all a student needs is a little help and support to finish.

“A lot of the students we have helped are super hard working, they are going to be successful. They are going to find their way to graduation, but we provide a little extra help so they are both less alone when they are having a hard time and also have something to help before they get their next paycheck or financial aid” said Smith

The distribution of money is all made within a small time frame since the funds are for immediate emergencies. The money can be awarded within 24-hours and it goes directly to agencies. For example, if a student needs a car repair or dental work the money goes directly to the third party.

“It is a lengthy process, but it is useful. Providing financial assistance to students isn’t as straightforward as you might think. There are regulations, you need to keep records and need to be accountable for the money that gets distributed. It’s a good balance, and we hired graduate assistants because it’s a big job and I could not ask for better help” said Smith.

Behind the scenes, graduate assistants Caroline Chalk and Nancy Odierno work together in a small office helping students with the application process, ensuring that the students get the best possibility of receiving the funds.

They are both heavily invested in assisting students in whatever way they can because they see the need and benefit of having this resource available.

“When I was an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, I’ll be honest, I didn’t really think a lot about the severity of students experiencing possibly food insecurity or homelessness. I knew a lot of students struggled financially, but I didn’t think it was to that degree or possibly as often as it is” said Chalk.

As a graduate assistant working for the Whitewater Emergency Fund, Chalk talks with students and gets to know their current situation

“I would encourage people to make an effort to understand and to be compassionate towards their peers because no one really knows what people are actually going through” said Chalk.

It makes her happy to see the appreciation some students express after receiving financial help. Despite moments of stress, she finds it incredibly rewarding.

“My favorite part of the job is when I get to advocate for the students. Social justice and cultural competency are really important factors within my graduate program so when I can bring them into real world position and make effective changes” said Odierno.

Odierno understands that it can be hard to handle everything by yourself. As a parent, she said she understands the struggle some other parents go through trying to juggle school. She hopes to empower students and help as she can.  

Both Chalk and Odierno encourage students to seek out the resources available to them. Their office is located in Roseman room 2017. Students seeking financial assistance or more information can also contact Lauren Smith at [email protected] or find the application portal online.