When the Covid-19 crisis swept across the New York area this past spring, many low-income CUNY students faced financial hardship, unable to pay for tuition, food, or rent. Many lost part-time jobs they counted on to make ends meet. In response, UJA-Federation allocated emergency cash assistance for low-income CUNY Hillel students. Hebrew Free Loan Society (HFLS), a UJA partner, administered these grants to 394 students.
Esther, a John Jay College student, and Daniel, a Baruch College student, recently shared how the pandemic affected their lives and why this emergency assistance grant made a true difference in their college careers.
“Getting the grant really lessens the load.” – Esther
This summer, Esther, who is a junior at John Jay College, had planned to take a required math class for her undergraduate degree. When the pandemic caused cutbacks at the agency where she worked, she lost her job. Esther feared she’d have to skip the class because she could no longer afford the tuition.
Thanks to the emergency grant, Esther could take the class and keep her education on track. “It means everything getting the grant,” she says. “It really lessens the load.”
The class played a pivotal role in the path Esther’s mapping out for herself in forensic psychology.
“If I didn’t have the math class this summer, I would have fallen behind in the fall semester,” she says. “The class was a prerequisite I needed before I could take statistics, which is so important for research.”
Psychology fascinates Esther and she’s channeled that focus into her career goal: to become an advocate for people with mental illness who are wrongfully convicted. When she completes her bachelor’s degree, which she’s paying for entirely on her own, Esther has her eyes on a dual degree graduate program in forensic psychology and law.
As the fall approaches, Esther is confident she’ll find a way to pay her tuition. “I’m going to figure it out,” she says with conviction. “I’m applying for a lot of different jobs now.”
“This grant makes me feel my community has my back.” – Daniel
Daniel, who is Israeli, came to New York City with a dream.
An expert in krav maga, a martial art developed for the Israel Defense Forces, Daniel had worked in security after his army service.
“I wanted to come to New York because it’s a financial hub and I wanted to switch careers,” he says. “My goal is to become an economic analyst for government or community affairs.”
So he applied to the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College and is now a junior studying finance. Because of Daniel’s status as a foreign student, he is under work restrictions and relies on his parents’ assistance to help pay tuition. His parents are also a vital support for his brother who grapples with mental illness.
An ambitious student, Daniel had a plan to keep his education moving forward with two summer classes in business and finance.
Then the pandemic spread in New York and Israel. Daniel and his family felt the immediate impact. Daniel’s best friend’s mother died from Covid-19. Daniel struggled to buy cleaning supplies and food. His brother lost his job as an inventory clerk and Daniel’s parents poured their resources into supporting him. Though they wanted to keep helping, their money ran out. Daniel was on his own.
“After all the hard work, this coronavirus comes along and there’s so much uncertainty about how to pay for my education,” Daniel says.
When he learned of the emergency grant, he applied and received assistance. And now, he’s finished his two summer classes, staying on track to realize his dream of working in a field where he can give back.
“This financial support makes me feel more secure,” Daniel says. “It makes me feel my community has my back.”
We’re proud to have been there for Esther and Daniel when they needed us most, giving them some peace of mind during uncertain days. We have no doubt they’ll be doing great things in a world that could use more young people just like them — passionate idealists who overcome any obstacles that stand in their way.