By Elizabeth Lafond Coppez ’03, M’07
When the University closed its doors during the spring, several dozen students had nowhere to go. Owls Helping Owls was launched to lend support.
In short order, nearly $40,000 was raised to support students with everything from food to WiFi. The Owls Helping Owls fund is administered by a team lead by Jennifer Propp, Ph.D., associate professor of social work, and Marjorie Rodríguez, an academic advisor and the TRiO Student Support Services Program coordinator.
“Our team had to figure out how to distribute these funds quickly, so we developed an online system for students to apply for assistance with rent, food, technology, or personal care products—and we created a seamless process,” says Propp.
Prior to the pandemic, Carolina González ’21 had a scholarship for a meal plan on campus and a work study job that helped her to earn money. “I was so scared, and sad,” says Gonzalez. “I didn’t have meals or a computer complete my coursework. I was frustrated and afraid this pandemic was going to affect my grades”.
The emergency fund helped González with meals and provided her with a computer on loan. Despite the difficult circumstances, she earned all As. With utmost humility, González admits, “I’m so proud of myself.” She is a senior majoring in Spanish and social work.
Many of the students who received funds were asked to share their voices by providing videos for the Emergency Fund page. “I think it’s beautiful to see many of these students who didn’t have the courage to share their story before, now feel empowered to do so,” says Rodríguez.
The TRiO Student Support Services Program is a federally funded program offering eligible students free academic and personal support designed to assist them through graduation and beyond. Because of TRiO and the student club, F.A.C.E.S. (Fostering A Culture of Empowerment and Success), Westfield State has worked to understand the needs of students aging out of the foster care system.
The University also established F.S.S.N (Fostering Student Success Network), to help eliminate barriers that may prevent this particular student population from academic success.
Propp and Rodríguez met when Rodríguez was an undergraduate. Rodríguez also grew up in the foster care system. “I was one of Jen’s students. She noticed me and my needs, and today we are changing the world!” she says.
Rodríguez double majored in Spanish and social work and then earned a master’s in social work. “Most of the students we work with are foster youth and/or experiencing homelessness. We are here for them. We want them to feel supported during their academic journey,” she says.
She adds of the Owls Helping Owls initiative, “The generosity of the people who donated is very heartwarming. The students were appreciative and surprised.”
Kyle McLaughlin ’18 was quick to donate to the Emergency Fund. “It’s important to help fellow Owls because many are not as fortunate,” she says. McLaughlin urges alumni to continue to help. “Your love and support will help these students who don’t get love and support from home.”
For more information about Owls Helping Owls, or to donate, visit westfield.ma.edu/owlhelp.