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When the COVID-19 crisis first hit, NIU sophomore Robert Hodges says he felt like he might be living in an alternate universe.

“Losing both my jobs in one week’s span, that’s something you see in the movies,” he says.

But Robert’s predicament was very real–a fact that became abundantly clear once he found himself relying on the generosity of friends for his next meal.

It didn’t take long for Robert to realize that he needed to figure things out quickly in order to hang on to the progress he’d made toward his NIU degree. He proudly explains that he’s nearing the finish line on his gen eds and about to declare an education major.

“But this threatened to change everything,” he says.

Like thousands of Huskies whose lives were turned upside down by the COVID-19 crisis, Robert Hodges turned to his pack for help.  He applied for, and received, a grant from the NIU Student Emergency Fund that allowed him to buy groceries and make the trip home to Chicago to check on his mother who had also lost her job as a result of the pandemic. “It’s always been just us,” he says. “This whole thing has been unreal.”

In partnership with the NIU Foundation, the university established the Student Emergency Fund in early April to help degree-seeking students stay in school, successfully finish the semester and plan for the future despite setbacks caused by emergency situations such as those presented during the current crisis.

In that short time, the university was able to provide emergency grants to more than 3,000 students like Robert, students with urgent needs such as food, transportation, housing, medical bills not covered by insurance, and technology to access online classes.

“NIU students are working hard to maintain their commitment to their education, while balancing huge challenges,” says Renique Kersh, Associate Vice Provost for Student Engagement and Success. “Our hope is that we can help them continue on their degree paths.”

Since receiving the grant, Robert has spent his time keeping up with his classes and searching for work. And, things are looking up. He reports that he was able to land a position at AutoZone just a few days ago.

On the academic front, Robert explains he’s using the transition to online learning as an opportunity to work on his “self-discipline and consistency.”

Amid this surreal crisis, Robert says he’s learned a lot. “This money made me see how much people care about the students here at NIU. That’s what’s up. That’s what’s real.”

“We are very grateful for the early and important gifts we’ve received from Huskies who are in a position to give right now,” says Catherine Squires, Vice President for University Advancement and President and CEO of the NIU Foundation.  “We want to help all of our students as they persevere in the face of emergencies, hardship, and obstacles to degree completion.”

To those who lent a helping hand when he desperately needed it, Robert says: “I would just like to say thank you, 100 percent, thank you. This will get me through.”

He plans to return in the fall to continue working toward his goal of becoming an English teacher.

Donations to the NIU Student Emergency Fund can be made online or via payroll deduction through the NIU Foundation. One hundred percent of all gifts will be used to provide direct support to students in need.

NOTE: As of Friday, April 17, the number of requests being processed from the Student Emergency Fund had exceeded the available funding.  The University has paused the application at this time, but will continue to provide updates on this site as additional funds become available.  Students with other non-financial concerns related to food, housing, etc., please take a moment to review the resources available or contact the Center for Student Assistance at studentassistance@niu.edu or 815-753-8300.

This article originally appeared in NIU Today, Tuesday, April 27.