The past seven months have tested everyone’s resilience, including the community college students of Franklin County, many of whom were already working over-time pre-pandemic to make ends meet while getting an education. For some of these students, success hinges on the basics— things like a steady income, reliable housing, food security, affordable childcare, and access to adequate technology.
It is because of this that Greenfield Community College would like to gratefully acknowledge the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Since June, the foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, established in March to respond to the immediate, urgent needs of those most vulnerable to the economic fallout of the pandemic, has awarded the college a total of $55,000 — funds that went directly to GCC’s Student COVID Emergency Fund, earmarked for vital needs such as food, housing, transportation, and medical emergencies.
Kathleen Keough, GCC’s Learning Support Counselor, is a licensed independent social worker who works in the college’s wellness center. “I have the privilege and opportunity to meet with lots of students,” she remarks, “and many of them struggle with some pretty big stressors — especially financial ones that keep them from having their basic needs easily met.”
Facing everything from possible eviction to the need for gas money to get to a doctor’s appointment, she reminds us just how many of GCC’s students are breaking the cycle of poverty, sharing that “some students would not be able to pursue their academic endeavors if it weren’t for this fund.”
Since the first grant was allotted, there have been over eighty recipients and roughly 60 to 70 percent of the funds have gone to food and housing. In the last round of funding, 30 percent of students needed it for basic transportation.
While she hesitates “to be as dramatic as life or death” about the matter, Kathleen shares that, “For some students, this money is a life preserver thrown out to them to help them achieve their academic goals, so they can meet their professional goals, so they can make a bigger mark on the world.”
She says that many recipients are “brought to tears” by receiving this kind of support and that students have told her that this kind of effort inspires them to think into the future — to a time “when they see someone in need and are able to return the favor.”
Rosemarie Freeland, Coordinator at GCC’s Women’s Resource Center — which assists all GCC students, regardless of gender — remarks, “What we do really well at GCC is to help students leverage the community, state and federal resources available to them. I work with students to identify resource gaps and ensure they have access to everything they are eligible for.”
Dr. Diana Abath, Advocate at GCC’s Women’s Resource Center, agrees. “We assist students to become their own best advocates by helping them research and find their own resources. We reinforce the strengths they already have — their intelligence and their fortitude — reminding them that they have what it takes to get what they need for their studies and their families.”
Over the past three months, there has been an outpouring of gratitude from the students who have directly benefited from the Community Foundation’s gift. “…this really helps and couldn’t come at a better time…,” one student wrote, sharing that they had gotten behind on bills and that this money had come as a “godsend.”
Another student shared that the funds had come through just as their other supplemental pay had ended and that it would allow them to pay rent and get food while they figured out a new solution. Yet another student wrote, “Wow what good news to find in my inbox!” when awarded the grant, sharing that it would be a significant help for their family, who was without childcare and living on one income.
Even though GCC’s own foundation had already been helping the students through the pandemic, the additional CFWM funds have allowed the college to go deeper into the needs of their students and meet them even more. According to Diana, “The CFWM grant has allowed us to assist many more students with a variety of basic needs even quicker.”
“It’s clear to most students that GCC is on their side,” says Rosemarie, “But in this moment of crisis, it’s even more profound to know that a community organization like CFWM is there. It demonstrates to the students that they are absolutely not alone.”
While “community” has always been a tenet of both GCC and CFWM — this crisis has illuminated what’s possible when people, institutions, and organizations come together to help students see their dreams to fruition.
Kathleen shares, “Between the economic donations and the quality of the faculty and staff, our students can and will be successful.”
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