During Crisis, Generous Alumni and Friends Show What It Means to Be Vincentian

March 27, 2020

Mindful of the financial burdens suddenly facing students and their families affected by COVID-19, many St. John’s alumni and friends find themselves asking the centuries-old Vincentian question: What must be done?

The answer to that question can be found in the Emergency Fund for St. John’s Students and the St. John’s Law Student Emergency Fund. The two funds were established following an unprecedented outpouring of support by alumni, including an anonymous $10,000 donation from an alumna of the School of Law.

To date, the funds have raised $104,123 from 254 donors.

“St. John’s is a special place, and current students are fortunate to be supported by our alumni and friends,” said Christian P. Vaupel, Ed.D., Vice President for Advancement and University Relations.

“Graduates of the University consistently provide St. John’s with the gifts of their time, talent, and philanthropic resources. And now, when an increasing number of students face economic challenges caused by the global health pandemic, our alumni and friends once again show their commitment to helping those most in need.” 

According to Kathryn T. Hutchinson, Ph.D., Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs, in the early days of the crisis, the University received more than 100 requests for assistance from students over a three-day span. Since then, students’ needs have continued.

Fortunately, personnel from Student Affairs, Campus Ministry, and other offices respond to their requests and find creative ways to get funds to those in need. “The students are grateful, humbled, and tearful as they are so happy with our response,” Dr. Hutchinson said. “We go to extra lengths as we help them problem-solve the challenges they face.”

These emergency funds are being used to aid students as they navigate through a wide range of unforeseen issues, ranging from sudden travel expenses, to Wi-Fi access, to offsite storage for personal items that could not be taken home on short notice.

For example, $25 can buy a student a hotspot to ensure they have Wi-Fi through the end of the semester so they can successfully complete their courses online. With $100, the University can send a student a Target gift card they can use to purchase food and personal supplies. A donation of $250 can help international students who are unable to return home because the borders of their country are closed.

For students in need, the availability of funds provides some relief in a world of uncertainty. “St. John’s really cares about us as people,” said a student who received financial assistance from one of the funds.

“We are more than just a group of students taking classes here. This is exactly why I always tell everyone that I love my school.”

According to Lucy Pesce, Executive Director for Mission and the Vincentian Institute for Social Action, the University received an unprecedented surge in the number of visits to the St. John’s Basic Needs page, which helps students who experience challenges in meeting their basic needs, such as food and essential personal items throughout the year.

“Several students are just looking for someone to speak with about all of the sudden changes that they now deal with, from their course work to their living situation,” Ms. Pesce said. “However, some seek resources that they may never have needed before, like having enough nutritious food or water to get through the next week or two.”

She added, “The funding provided by our generous alumni and friends has allowed for greater flexibility to support these students at a time when many of them need it the most.”

One such alumnus is Douglas G. Vetter ’88C, ’91L, who donated to the fund when it was first established. “Helping students stay on track in their pursuit of an education, and not letting that get derailed by the additional financial hardships that come along with a crisis like this, is essential,” he said. “St. John’s has played a big role in the success of a lot of people who are now well-equipped to weather this storm, and we need to come together as a community to help this generation of students.”

Whether you are an alumnus/a of St. John’s, or simply a friend of the University who wants to support our mission of helping those most in need, you can help ensure students’ success and well-being by donating to either the Emergency Fund for St. John’s Students or the St. John’s Law Student Emergency Fund.