BEFORE MANY CURRENT STUDENTS WERE BORN, THE CLASS OF 1978 set up a student assistance fund in honor of Helen Wilkinson, the school’s longtime registrar. Now, that fund is aiding students who have financial hardships due to the coronavirus crisis.
“She would find ways to get the students money when they needed it,” said Vice President for Institutional Advancement Jeffrey Schanz. “We have decided to use this fund as a way to cover COVID issues. All of the money goes directly to student support: helping students get groceries, helping students because they lost their jobs.”
For March and April, the school put a “pause” on other fundraising and encouraged gifts to the Helen Wilkinson Fund. The response was “massive,” Schanz said. “We’re getting a lot of contributions not because people exactly knew Helen Wilkinson, but because they know the students have a great deal of need right now. In some cases this is keeping the students literally enrolled here.”
Most student requests are for help with rent, groceries, or utilities—mainly high-speed internet to allow them to participate in online classes and other expenses related to COVID-19, said Associate Dean for Student Affairs Rosemary Queenan.
Some students wrote that they were supported by a spouse, but the spouse had been laid off because of the shutdown. One student asked for help with child care. “Her sister typically watched the child and wasn’t able to because she was immunocompromised. So, she then needed to secure alternative child care,” Queenan said.
Other students had to unexpectedly adapt when the bar exam was rescheduled from the end of July to September and then October. “They thought they were going to sit for the exam at the end of July and probably planned for expenses through that time period,” she said.
The fund was able to help those students with rent and other expenses. Donors have given so much to the fund—$56,000 as of August 1—that the committee in charge of disbursements was able to grant most eligible requests.
The fund doesn’t cover credit card payments or car loans— only emergency needs.
“The support from our alumni is unbelievable,” Queenan said. And it may lead to the next generation of donors. One student wrote in a thank-you letter, “I hope to one day pay this forward to a future Albany Law School student.”