April 8, 2022
Your Gift Could Save a Student
Between the fear of contracting COVID-19 and learning to navigate remote learning — 2021 hadn’t been an easy year for a group of 10 international students. And that was before a flood ripped apart their downtown Calgary apartment, spinning their lives into further chaos.
Forced to evacuate immediately meant leaving their belongings, clothes, even the food in the fridge to go . . . where?
“Some went to friends’ places, others found temporary rooms in residence at the university,” explains Mackenzie Beaupre, BSW’21, an Indigenous student support advisor with UCalgary’s Student Wellness Services (SWS). “But, when we first heard about their dire situation, they were kind of transient, with no place to go.”
Such unforeseen emergencies are precisely why the Students’ Greatest Needs Fund was created four years ago. Thanks to the Fund, Beaupre was able to help stave off the panic this vulnerable group was feeling by giving them grocery gift cards and helping them find temporary digs in which to live.
Emergencies can come in all forms: floods, loss of work and childcare, rising rent and grocery bills, sickness — these and more can all add stress and wobble to one’s mental health.
And then there’s the shadow pandemic — the rise in domestic violence and sexual assault that has spiked since COVID began to upend our lives. Carla Bertsch, BA’08, UCalgary’s sexual and gender-based violence support and response co-ordinator, points out that, in a typical year, nearly half (47 per cent) of all sexual assault cases in Canada are committed against women aged 15 to 24. In fact, according to Prof. Sharyn Potter’s landmark study (and TEDx talk) of campuses across North America, one in five women will be victims of campus sexual assault and one-third will drop out of school, while another third will lower their field of study to something less demanding.
With such cases of violence on the rise, an increasing number of students have reached out to SWS asking for transit passes, grocery cards, counselling — in fact, in 2021, the SWS team made 7,200 appointments for myriad reasons. And, since January of this year, they’ve used the Students’ Greatest Needs fund to assist 29 students by providing them with emergency relief (compared to 20 for the entirety of 2021).
When up against a wall, students may quit their studies altogether, warns Bertsch. The logic runs like this — I can’t afford to be a student, I need money, school is expensive, therefore I’d better get a job to make ends meet. “It’s amazing how a $500 gift card for groceries can, perhaps, keep them in school and change their lives,” she says.
“Students tell us that this fund has actually stopped them from dropping out; it has allowed them to keep their focus on academics.”
We all know that, when you’re in crisis, desperation can taint reality and the decisions you make may not be the best. When experiencing trauma, explains Bertsch, “people naturally find it harder to concentrate, especially when it comes to complex thinking. In certain situations, they may lose a part-time job, they can’t go to class, their eating and sleep patterns get disrupted . . . and on it goes.”
While there are numerous funds you can support for this year’s Giving Day campaign, the UCalgary Alumni Association has decided to triple what alumni donate to the Students’ Greatest Needs Fund, up to a maximum of $2,500.
Here’s how your donation could help a student:
- $15 can provide a meal for a student in need.
- $50 can support emergency transportation fees for those fleeing an abusive situation.
- $100 can pay for a grocery card for a student and their family.
- $200 can help with the purchase of a winter coat for an international student new to Calgary.
- $500 can provide temporary emergency shelter for individuals experiencing domestic violence.
- $1,250 can support the costs of technological needs, a significant barrier for many struggling students.
The Students’ Greatest Needs Fund was created to address the immediate needs of students who are experiencing a crisis. It is an example of the community support that is available for all students, that there are people in place to listen, provide support and resources, and to help those who need it to get back on their feet again. No one needs to sacrifice their basic needs in times of crisis when our community is here to help.