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Private support aids students struggling due to COVID-19

WVU students Charde De Lestre (left) and Amanda Hammons (right)

WVU students Charde De Lestre (left) and Amanda Hammons (right)

West Virginia University junior Charde De Lestre lost three part-time jobs and fell nearly three months behind on her rent after classes moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, she’s been able to continue her studies thanks to generous private donations that are providing emergency aid for students in need.

“If it had not been for this aid, I would possibly have been forced to give up my opportunity to continue to reach my goal of becoming a social worker as planned at WVU,” said De Lestre, a junior who hopes to help others attend and graduate from college in her professional career.

De Lestre is among nearly 100 students who have received about $60,000 in financial assistance from the Gray Student Emergency Fund to date, with the WVU Office of Financial Aid just beginning to review summer and fall requests. WVU supporters donated more than $500,000 to the Gray Fund last month to mark #GivingTuesdayNow, a global day of giving and unity created to help meet the unprecedented need caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University, continues to raise money for students in need via a special fundraising initiative focused on the WVU Emergency Scholarship Fund. All donations will assist students affected by COVID-19 with tuition, room and board, and other educational expenses.

Amanda Hammons, a junior studying public administration and criminology at WVU Tech, was shocked to discover there was emergency aid available for students like her, who support themselves and have limited family resources. She feared she might have to put her dreams of working in addiction recovery on hold after she lost her job at a nonprofit organization and became a caretaker for her sister’s four children.

“If I wouldn’t have gotten the aid that I got when I got it, I would’ve been in a situation where I wasn’t able to take care of the necessities to maintain my life,” Hammons said. “I wouldn’t have been able to move forward and maybe possibly would not have been able to attend the next school term.”

WVU students Lily Vredingburgh (left) and Vera Abankwa (right)

WVU students Lily Vredingburgh (left) and Vera Abankwa (right) 

Interdisciplinary studies major Vera Abankwa is the oldest of five children, all of whom had to take classes online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With her dad unemployed and her mom working on the front lines, they had to scramble to get enough computers while also worrying about how to meet the family’s basic needs.

The aid she received “changed not only my life but has also impacted my family to have food on the table, to be able to get the necessary items that we need for the house,” said Abankwa, who hopes to work as a speech language pathologist and/or conduct language-related research following graduate school.

Lily Vredingburgh lost two jobs she’s held throughout college to support herself. Several of her five siblings were out of work, too, creating significant financial challenges for their family. The emergency aid she received provided some relief and allowed her to focus on her online coursework.

“I will do everything that I can to express my gratitude by paying it forward and making a difference for the youth in our community as I continue my journey of becoming an educator,” said Vredingburgh, a graduate student studying elementary education. 

To make a donation to the WVU Emergency Scholarship Fund, contact Jena Prokopchuk, WVU Foundation executive director of leadership annual giving, at 304-282-5929 or jprokopchuk@wvuf.org, or visit the secure, dedicated giving webpage

The WVU Office of Financial Aid oversees scholarship awards for all WVU students in accordance with each student’s aid eligibility. Students who believe they qualify should contact the Mountaineer Hub and submit an online ticket requesting assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hub staff will reply to all requests.

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