Student Support Foundation
Preston Fuller and Kathy Tardif are advisors for PSU’s Student Support Foundation (SSF).The SSF is a confidential program that offers grants to matriculated graduate and undergraduate students who are experiencing financial crises. The foundation offers financial assistance with food, emergency travel, books, school-related supplies, daycare, and initial payment toward emergency medical or dental procedures. Since 2006, the SSF has served 120 students and has distributed over $10,000 in grant funds.
PSU’s Student Support Foundation was established in 2005 through a generous donation from the Morgridge family, long-time philanthropists of Plymouth State University. Carrie Morgridge, wife of alumnus John Morgridge, started student support foundations at the high school level, but soon realized the potential impact of expanding efforts to the collegiate level. As philanthropists themselves, the Morgridges wanted to give students the chance to experience the fundamentals of philanthropy-its joys and difficulties-outside of the classroom. The foundations are structured so that an anonymous and diverse board of students evaluates and approves grant applications. It was also determined that all applicants would remain anonymous to the board members.
The SSF was linked administratively to the Reflection and Spiritual Care Center, with Kathy and Preston serving as advisors. As campus ministers, they have strong connections with the Plymouth community and area social service programs, making it a fitting home for the SSF.
Grant recipients have ranged from first-year undergraduates to last-semester seniors to non-traditional and international students. Their experiences and financial situations have varied. Situations have included a student waiting for a first paycheck and needing to buy books or food; a family emergency that drains resources, leaving no money for gas to commute to school; unexpected medical expenses that disrupt a delicately balanced budget; assistance with paying for daycare while waiting for a slot at a subsidized center. All students who received grants were grateful; some even cried tears of relief and joy.
Though the SSF has provided money to students in financial crisis, of equal importance is the education applicants received about additional resources. Regardless of whether or not a request was approved, the board provided information about alternative resources related to the applicant’s situation. When the student board learned about Financial Aid’s $MART Program, they began recommending that every applicant make an appointment for financial counseling.
As the foundation has evolved, the grants have not only helped students survive financial crises, but have also helped to keep students in school so they can complete their degrees, an important goal of the Morgridges, as well as PSU.
The student board meets during the fall and spring undergraduate semesters. Students experiencing a financial crisis should refer to the SSF Web site for funding guidelines, the application, and advisor contact information.
What is the most gratifying part of your role with the SSF?
The foundation strives to provide an education in philanthropy and create a space for transformational experiences to occur. Some of the needs that come through the foundation are heartbreaking. We have seen students whose parents are homeless; who are on the verge of fainting from hunger; who are trying to juggle jobs, children, and education on almost no budget.
In the extreme hardship cases we try to bring the students in to talk. Here, our pastoral skills can be implemented and the full breath of the student’s struggle is vented. If their need is greater than the $200 we can give (and often this is the case), we try and connect them with outside community support.
The students on the board have grown with the program. The board members are selected for their unique background, educational focus, and financial history; we joke that we have bleeding hearts and hard-nosed critiques. In reality, each board member is both thoughtful and tough. They are often amazed at how difficult fellow students’ lives have become. They are also aware that some requests are not true emergencies, and thus, have learned the critical task of rejecting grants. There are times when the board is overwhelmed with requests and must prioritize the needs based on available funds.
We keep a sharp eye on the student’s compassion fatigue level, work with them to keep the demands at a healthy pace, and check in with the student board to make sure they do not become emotionally exhausted.
At semester’s end, there is no doubt that lives have been seriously changed, a few maybe even saved from absolute despair. The grant applicants and the students on the board are indeed transformed.
I’m deeply gratified in three ways. First, I stand in awe of students who ask for help. These people are resilient, resourceful, and turn to the SSF only as a last resort. Thanks to the Morgridges, we’re able to give these students a desperately needed hand and show them more resources to draw on in the future. That’s very empowering. I don’t just feel compassion when I hear their stories; I now have the resources to act compassionately. Many of these people pass along that compassion and generosity – they tell me so.
Second, each semester I watch the board members expand their perspectives on the world and the people around them. They learn about financial and personal struggles they couldn’t even fathom before reading some of these grants-students who can’t go home because of dangerous family situations, who live with debilitating diseases, who make a few simple ingredients stretch for days of meals, who pay high financial penalties because they must raid their retirement accounts to live day-to-day. Board members become more realistic about whom they can help with limited funds, develop an awareness of genuine financial crises, and come to understand that some emergencies are more dire than they appear. Board members become more thoughtful observers of life and more considerate in their opinions of others. In a word, they are transformed.
Third, working with the SSF allows me to extend the incredible care and concern that PSU faculty and staff show the students. This is a place that not only educates students, but nurtures them into responsible, mature people. What a privilege to be an active part of that enterprise!
For additional information, visit Student Support Foundation (SSF) Web site or call (603) 535-2327 or (603) 535-2673.