"Lending a Helping Paw: The Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund"

Lending a Helping Paw: The Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund

For many people throughout the U.S. and around the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges. Life on Ursinus’s largely residential campus certainly changed as well—601 E. Main Street has never been so quiet—and while many students adjusted to remote learning, some required additional assistance in unexpected ways.

Now, more than ever, resources like the Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund have proven vital.

“We have a lot of students at the college who rely on work-study jobs or general on- and off- campus employment to help fund their educations,” says Ellen Curcio, director of student financial services. “The shutdown of campus as well as of many businesses across our region and the U.S. had a profound impact on these students and their families, creating additional stress and worry about the ability for them to continue their college educations.”

Established two years ago by Will Abele ’61 and his wife, Joan Abele, the Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund provides loan-free grants to students who are facing sudden financial hardship.

Since late March, Ursinus has seen a steady increase in funding requests from students for situations directly related to this global health crisis. Bear2Bear is serving as a resource for those facing unemployment or furlough for themselves, their family members or their caregivers. Moreover, multiple study abroad participants applied for and received grants to cover travel expenses for their return to the United States. Depending on the departing location, these charges topped $1,000 and associated fees were often higher because of the short notice Bear 2 Bear Fund Quotein securing flight accommodations.

“This entire COVID-19 experience was unexpected and certainly not something that our students could possibly see coming,” says Laura Cunningham, director of the Abele Scholars Program and head of the Bear2Bear Committee. “It has been very scary for them, as it has been for everyone. We’re fortunate to have the Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund in place to help them and, in a small way, alleviate some of the stress of this situation.”

Since its inception, the fund has disbursed nearly $193,000, with more than $181,000 directed toward emergency grants. Students may receive up to $5,000, and currently, the average award is about $2,300. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis throughout the year by a committee comprised of faculty and staff. To date, 91 grants have been disbursed. Students are eligible to receive funding twice within a one-year period; however, the total grant cannot exceed $5,000.

New this year, the fund also is supporting completion grants for students within a year of graduation who have an outstanding and unexpected financial gap between available financial aid and their remaining balance.

One unique aspect of the Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund is that it is entirely supported by donors. In addition to private contributions received throughout the year, the fund is also supplemented annually through the college’s Bear2Bear Benefit & Bash. Due to the pandemic, this spring’s event was moved online as a fully digital experience. And the Ursinus community stepped up in a big way. In total, more than $220,000 was raised from sponsorships, gifts and a mobile auction, topping last year’s fundraising outcome.

For students facing some of the most difficult challenges of their lives, the impact of the Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund can be profound.

“I know from speaking one-on-one with our students as they apply for assistance that having this type of resource is truly life changing for them,” Cunningham says. “It not only helps them with attaining their education, but it also is inspiring for them to know that there are people out there who genuinely care about their well-being.” —By Jacqueline D’Ercole