Florida Weekly Column

Summer House-ing

Summer House-ing

The calendar, balmy weather and daylight savings time signal it’s spring but some of our Southwest Florida neighbors are already looking ahead to summer.

Sure, we all know people who are planning summer projects or a bucket list vacation, and those are things worth looking forward to months in advance. But not everyone is approaching the pending season with such anticipation.

In fact there are several young women who are downright dreading summer vacation. They are students at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) and the minute they finish class this spring semester, take their final exams and move out of student housing they have no idea where they are living, how they are obtaining transportation or where they will get their next meal.

I first learned of these students in the same way I often hear about people facing struggles or roadblocks- from the advocates or guardian angels that have connected with them and are trying to help.

It is always incredible to learn of expansive hearts and the generous nature of Southwest Floridians. When a caring woman who is part of our Women’s Legacy Fund at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation met these students she discovered that although they had Pell Grants, financial aid packages and other assistance they were still struggling to get by as they pursued their degrees. Over the past year she has helped with basic needs and provided a supportive shoulder on which to lean.

These young women have found a listening ear and a friend who is willing to help out and she has reached out to her friends as well. But no one saw this summer dilemma on the horizon until the co-eds shared that moving out of the dorms would create a whole new set of challenges. One of the women’s only living relatives in the area are currently experiencing homelessness and are living in a car.

The state law in Florida mandates that state college or university students must be enrolled in school in order to live in student housing. But financial aid and Pell Grants do not always provide the necessary funding for students to remain in school over the summer.

FGCU’s team of pros have done amazing work helping the women navigate their options though the financial aid process and have offered a variety of support services that are available to students. A recent check with their guardian angel indicates that one of the women will have roll-over dollars and can stay enrolled in school for the summer term but the other woman is not in the same situation.

This scenario is being repeated all over the country on an ongoing basis. Barriers to students obtaining a degree are not just financial. Many colleges, including FGCU provide food pantries and other social service functions to assist their students’ in persisting in school.

Many times when our Foundation team works with donors who want to help students complete a degree they generously provide for the tuition costs, but if a student does not have transportation or other resources they struggle to find employment to subsidize their other related expenses.

If these Southwest Florida women spend a summer on the streets or in the woods waiting for the fall semester I wonder if they will make it back to class.

Fortunately these young women have champions on their side helping them to navigate possible solutions. But it makes me wonder how many others are sitting in class today with the same worries?

As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants.

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