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Westfield State raises $40,000 to help high risk students following onset of COVID-19 pandemic

During theCOVID-19 outbreak, Westfield State University faculty, staff, and alumni donated $20,000 to “Owls Helping Owls,” an emergency fund established to help vulnerable students. The University received a $20,000 grant from the Community Foundation for a total of $40,000 raised to help students buy everything from laptops to personal items when they were isolated during the economic shutdown.

“As we all navigated our new world this past spring, it was inspiring to see how those on campus pulled together to make the transition to a more ‘virtual’ community as seamless as can be expected,” said Erica Broman, Ed.D., vice president for institutional advancement at Westfield State. “While many of us have homes and loved ones to help us through the challenging time, many students are not so fortunate. In an effort to assist them as best we can, we established Owls Helping Owls to support the essential needs of our students who may not have parents, champions, or the appropriate resources to assist them in this time of turmoil.” 

Marjorie Rodriguez ’15, M’16, academic advisor for the University’s TRIO Student Support Services and one of the single points of contact for current/former foster students and students experiencing homelessness at Westfield State, was sensitive to the needs of current students impacted by the pandemic.

“As a former foster youth, I know exactly where my students are,” she said. “When you put your heart and soul into the work you do, it is impossible to stay safe at home and disconnect yourself from this new reality, knowing that so many students are struggling to meet their basic needs.” 

Rodriguez and Jennifer Propp, Ph.D., associate professor of social work at Westfield State and a mentor to Rodriguez, connected with students to provide emotional support.

“As someone who has survived homelessness and experienced the recent loss of a friend by suicide, I thought I was strong enough to survive anything,” said Carolina González, a Westfield State senior majoring in social work and Spanish.

But when the pandemic hit—taking away her work-study income and access to campus-based services such as the dining commons and library—González felt lost and helpless. The “Owls Helping Owls” emergency fund allowed her to finish the semester in safety.

“COVID-19 turned our world upside down,” said Iris Roman-Muñoz ’20, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in May. “I can’t imagine how my semester would have ended if I hadn’t received this support. They saved me and prevented me from worrying about not having food or access to personal care items.”

“I was able to focus on what mattered most, which was to complete my degree,” she added.  

Individuals interested in supporting this initiative should visit westfield.ma.edu/owlhelp.

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