When the shutdowns emanating from the COVID-19 outbreak put Westfield State University students in a vulnerable position, staff, faculty and alumni stepped up this spring, quickly raising close to $40,000 for essentials in lockdown. Owls Helping Owls helped purchase everything from laptops down to toiletries for students isolated by the quarantine.
“When you put your heart and soul into the work that you do, it is extremely impossible to stay at home safe and disconnect yourself from this new reality, knowing that so many students are struggling to meet their basic needs,” says Marjorie Rodriguez ’15, Program Director for TRIO Student Support Services Program.
A former foster youth, who herself experienced homelessness as a nontraditional student at Westfield State, Rodriguez was able to help track down students hit hard by the shutdowns.
“I know exactly where my students are,” she says.
Rodriguez and Jennifer Propp, her professor and mentor in Westfield State’s social work department, connected with students to meet their basic needs and provide the socio-emotional support so crucial during uncertain times. “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 Propps.
"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,” says Carolina González ’20. But when the pandemic hit, taking away her work-study income and access to campusbased services such as the dining commons and library, she felt lost and helpless. The emergency fund allowed her to finish the semester in safety.
“COVID-19 turned our world upside down,” says Iris Roman-Muñoz ’20. "I can’t imagine how my semester would have ended if I hadn’t received the support I received. They literally saved me and prevented me from worrying about not having food or access to personal care items.”
“I was able to focus on what matters the most, which is to complete my degree,” she adds.
If you’re interested in supporting this initiative, please visit westfield.ma.edu/owlhelp