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Student Assistance Fund Provides Relief During COVID-19 Crisis

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Alyssa Hurst

The fund has received more than $90,000 in donations since the outbreak of the virus

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For the last four years, when University of Denver students have found themselves facing difficult financial situations — unexpected medical bills, expensive car repairs, food insecurity — they have turned to the University’s Student Assistance Fund for help.

Never has the Student Assistance Fund been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay-at-home orders have left some students scrambling to pay for flights home, while others have lost their sources of income even as rent and utility payments loom. And as classes have moved online, students have faced such additional challenges as securing adequate technology and ensuring steady WiFi. That’s where the fund can help.

“The [Student Assistance Fund] was put in place so that students can be successful here at the University of Denver, and if we can help take [immediate financial problems] off their plate as quickly as possible, that’s how they get back to being a successful student,” says Michael Johnson, director of Student Outreach and Support (SOS). “We always have that in the back of our heads.”

In these days of COVID-19, the Student Assistance Fund, created by the DU Student Foundation, has seen a striking increase in requests from students. Since March 16, nearly 200 students have applied for help, and that number is quickly growing. To meet these needs, SOS has relied on a significant jump in donations from generous members of the DU community. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S., donations to the fund have grown by $93,000. Kelly Schlabach, a case manager with SOS, says that with grants to students typically falling between $200-$500, gifts coming into the fund have been instrumental in allowing SOS to help more students through the crisis.

“The donations have made a huge difference in what we are able to do and what we are able to provide students,” she says. “I think the Student Assistance Fund is going to be looked to for months and years as people recover and heal from this. That speaks to how integral the donations are.”

During this time of difficulty, Johnson says, the fund — and the team behind it — have been there offering much more than financial support. After students submit an application via the SOS website, their cases are reviewed (quickly — sometimes in just 48 hours), and they are connected with a case manager who can help them see beyond the immediate crisis to a long-term solution.

“There are so many stories where people are like ‘I wouldn’t have known that was a resource had we not spoken,’” Johnson says. “It’s a testament to the work the case managers do to make sure they are going above and beyond just giving a fund and really bringing that human piece to it as well.”

With applications pouring in and demand expected to continue, the SOS team has worked tirelessly to ensure students get support where they can. The reward, says Ayla Engelhart, associate director of SOS, is seeing DU students thrive.

“I was the case manager for a student who had a housing concern, and it was really complicated. After he was able to get some assistance from us, he said that he felt like he would actually be able to engage more with the community, which was what he was hoping for from his experience at DU,” Engelhart explains. “He felt like he could be the student he was when he first got here and actually engage with people because he wasn’t constantly thinking of this financial burden.”


To learn more about the Student Assistance Fund, click here.

To learn how to donate to the fund, visit here.