Staff members in the office of Student Life at Abilene Christian University each year encounter students who need help paying for all of these life necessities as they encounter difficult situations and personal hardships during their time here.
For example, one student paying her and her brother’s way through school needed assistance with a utility bill so they could have water in their apartment. Another couldn’t afford a $40 textbook not covered with financial aid.
Another student, who had recently lost both of his parents to illness, couldn’t afford to replace his broken pair of glasses. His eyesight was so bad, he was unable to drive and concentrate in class.
Without a support network of family and friends, students like these often struggle to succeed. They are determined to be self-sufficient, but they lack relief of their immediate burden and access to opportunities to not only survive, but thrive.
That’s why Student Life created the Katie Kirby Student Care Fund, through which the student was able to receive two new pairs of glasses.
The Katie Kirby Student Care Fund provides critical, immediate resources to students in need who have been referred to the Student Opportunities, Advocacy and Resources (SOAR) Program by themselves or others. Led by Shannon (Buchanan ’07) Kaczmarek, director of student advocacy programs, SOAR staff work with students to find solutions to barriers in their lives, connecting them with campus and community resources, serving as advocates in discussions with faculty and staff, and providing a safe, caring environment where they can find support.
“Soon after I lost my glasses, I reached out to the SOAR program on campus, a program designed to advocate on behalf of students and walk with them through difficult seasons, and asked for help,” the student who received glasses wrote in a thank you email. “Thankfully, my request for help was granted and I now own two pairs of quality glasses that assist me in my learning and daily life. The gift of vision is not something that I take for granted, and I am very thankful for SOAR’s generosity.”
Not all students referred to SOAR require financial assistance, but some do. Through careful consideration and significant interaction with the student, Kaczmarek said, money from the fund is used to pay bills or purchase food, clothing, personal hygiene items, or books and basic school supplies not covered by financial aid.
Previously called the Student Success Relief Fund, it was renamed in Fall 2016 after 19-year-old Katherine “Katie” Laura Kirby, a sophomore from Friendswood, died unexpectedly.
“This is a way to honor Katie’s life and the spirit of what she was about here at ACU and beyond,” said dean of students Mark Lewis (’95 M.M.F.T.).
“Through the fund, students are able to get assistance to address their immediate situation, but they’re also worked with in order to look at ways to find solutions moving forward,” Lewis said. “In other words, this is meant not to be a handout, but a hand.”
Here are several messages sent to SOAR staff from students who have received support:
“Life has been overwhelming of late. This situation as well as recent distress started to break my morale and positive outlook on life. [Your help] truly showed me the love and compassion ACU offers and the realness of God’s presence on campus. That is why I chose your university. … Yes, you all helped me with this financial burden, but you also showed me that people do care and that I am not alone in this fight (something that I struggle with believing on a daily basis). For that, I am forever grateful.”
“Thank you so much for helping me. This is a very scary time for me. I hope you know how much I appreciate this. I am just trying to push through to get my degree. I am so close, and I don’t want to lose this opportunity to succeed.”
“Thanks so much for helping me, Shannon. I really do appreciate you working so graciously with me. I also appreciate your willingness to help students, especially those who might be struggling a little more.”
Every cent donated to the Katie Kirby Student Care Fund goes directly to students, and ACU highlighted this fund as part of its first-ever Day of Giving on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. You can still make a donation to the fund by clicking here.