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Emergency fund aims to give students a hand up

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Stolen equipment. Damaged apartments. Food insecurity.

College students face emergencies of all kinds — and the University at Albany is looking for ways to maintain a new fund to help them out.

Last year, two private foundations provided seven SUNY schools with grant money to fill the gaps in emergency care services.

One semester after its launch, UAlbany’s $100,000 student emergency fund has already helped 29 students get back on their feet.

This includes replacing vital equipment like cameras or computers for students that needed them to complete their degree, and auto work for a student whose only car to commute from a rural area didn’t pass inspection.

Previously, the UAlbany Foundation maintained a small emergency fund of less than $10,000, but kept it under wraps for fear of students draining it for good.

“We had students that would come to us with these needs and we didn’t really have funding to assist that,” said Sally D’Alessandro, director of Student CARE and a key player in administering the funds to students.

The funds two contributors, the Heckscher Foundation for Children and the Gerstner Family Foundation for Children, are reviewing how their money is being used at UAlbany. They may grant the school another $100,000 next year, according to Rich Becker, director of corporate-foundation relations.

However, the grant can last only two years at most, prompting Student Affairs and the Foundation to commit to finding other ways to keep the student emergency fund running.

“We don’t want this to be $100,000 this year, then hopefully next year, then nothing,” said Becker, adding development officers were being briefed on the program and how to market it to potential donors.

D’Alessandro said that the majority of students who applied in the spring heard about the fund through professors and staff members who were in the know.

The university’s efforts to raise awareness of the fund were subdued last semester compared to this semester’s actions – like the plan to place 1,000 flyers downtown at student apartments.

“I don’t think the intention was to hold back necessarily,” said D’Alessandro, “I think we just didn’t really know what the response would be. And this is a part of what I do, not the whole of what I do.”

Student CARE began in 2014 with D’Alessandro, a licensed social worker, setting up an office in the Campus Center and meeting with students struggling with social, financial, or other problems.

She remains the sole employee of Student CARE, though she said she has asked Student Affairs for more funding to hire another employee.

D’Alessandro’s situation mirrors that of another small student division, the Advocacy Center for Sexual Violence. Director Carol Stenger had to step down from mentoring a student group last semester, in part because of the large volume of cases which she and the only other advocate Mary McCarthy receive each semester.

D’Alessandro said she expected to receive more applications for the emergency fund in its second semester of operation.

“I already have three,” she said on the first day of classes.

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Joe Hoffman is the managing editor for the Albany Student Press.

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