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Emergency Fund helps more than 150 college students stay on track to graduate

In 2020, we awarded $72,177 in emergency funding to more than 150 students, thanks to the Rhode Island Foundation, the United Way of Rhode Island, and our 401Gives Day donors. Here are a few students’ stories.

Students who encounter an unexpected cost or emergency often try to manage on their own despite the obstacle. That was the case for Amelia Lopez, a sophomore at the University of Rhode Island majoring in business, who came home from her job at the Ram’s Den food court on campus to find her laptop had fallen and shattered.

A lifelong Providence resident and graduate of Classical High School, she has been taking most of her classes online this year.

“I work and do school full time, all while paying my own rent and bills. I supply all of my own food and necessities; I’m 100% self-supporting,” she said. “When my laptop broke, my life was put on hold. I couldn’t do certain assignments or participate in Zoom meetings at times. I went a long time without a laptop. I couldn’t shell out the cash for a new one right away and, despite my efforts, I failed one of my classes.”

She received an email from the Onward We Learn about applying for the emergency fund and was awarded funds to replace her computer.

“Having this laptop has made me able to comfortably do work and school without worrying about a huge dent in my wallet,” she said. “In 2021, it is almost impossible to be successful in college without a computer or laptop.”

She wants to thank the donors and funders who made it possible to get back on track with her new laptop.

“Without the emergency fund, I’m not sure how much longer I would have gone without consistent access to a computer,” she said. “Buying a new laptop was unexpected and would have set me back a whole month of rent. I cannot be more grateful to the donors and funders that took this huge burden off of my shoulders and made my success possible this semester. The laptop is much better quality than anything I could have gotten for myself and I feel privileged to have this kind of support. Thank you, donors and funders, for your generosity. It is going a really long way.”

Erick Paz, a freshman and Johnson & Wales University this year majoring in electronics engineering, also received funds to purchase a laptop

He said having a laptop was mandatory to attend, but he didn’t have enough money to purchase one. Then he learned about the Onward We Learn emergency fund.

“This fund definitely helped me because I got a bill – and some stress – off my back. I felt so relieved when I heard I was getting these funds because during these unprecedented times, it’s hard to get the money for important things like this,” he said

He’d like to tell donors and funders that without the laptop, he wouldn’t have been able to go to college.

“Thank you so much, but even that isn’t enough for me to tell them how much I appreciated their help,” he said. “I definitely wouldn’t have done it without you. My humble appreciation goes out to you.”

Because of the pandemic, many students sought funding for basic needs such as groceries.

Valeria Aguilar, a sophomore at URI majoring in medical laboratory science, is living at home in Providence this year and all of her classes except one are remote. She learned about the Onward We Learn’s emergency fund through an email from her college success coach.

“This helped me and my family because during the time there was a lot of uncertainty and my dad was the only one working, so it helped us be able to pay for groceries and still have money for bills,” she said. “I am super grateful to know that there are people helping others when needed. Funds are so crucial for students because it can help relieve stress and worries about financial problems in order to just stay focused on school.”

All college students must purchase textbooks and supplies for their classes, but the equipment required for some majors can place an additional burden on them.

“Dowels, wooden planks, cardboard sheets, chipboard, foam board, glue, my drawing utensils, sketch books, erasers, and so many other materials,” lists Carlos Ferman, a junior architecture major at Roger Williams University. “It starts to become more of a nightmare than a dream. That is not even talking about the computer software that architects use.”

The Providence Career and Technical Academy graduate is the first in his family born in the United States. “My single parent mother has to make sure to essentially make the equivalent of two parents because even with two parents, many families take out loans and struggle to send their children to college,” he said.

He attended a Onward We Learn FAFSA Night, where Director of Postsecondary Success Naglaa Gaafar helped him complete the important financial aid application and told him about the emergency fund.

The funding helped him purchase yearlong subscriptions to the Adobe Creative Suite and SketchUp software as well as glue, batteries and eraser tips for his electric eraser, and an architectural scale, among other supplies.

“Thanks to the Onward We Learn I was able to continue my third year of architecture because I was able to purchase these important items,” he said. “As a family we struggle financially and make do with what we have. I have taken out loans in my name and applied for several scholarships, so we get by, but this emergency fund has truly lightened the burden my mother carries on her shoulder.”

Ferman said it’s heartbreaking to see some of his peers who were not in the Onward We Learn struggling to chase their dreams.

“To the donors and funders who helped make these funds possible, thank you. But more importantly, it is because of people like you that shape the future. I have too many stories of students who have the motivation, the knowledge, the qualifications, the ability, the talent – everything but the funds,” he said. “Again, thank you to every donor, because investing in our youth, our students, our children is what ultimately shapes the future. Thank you.”