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A Campaign for Caring

DATE: Wednesday, October 28, 2020

'Together HCC' offers help, hope

Culinary Arts selfie posted on Facebook

Editor's Note: This story appears in the Fall 2020 edition of HCC's Alumni Connection magazine under the headline "A Campaign for Trying Times: 'Together HCC' offers help, hope."

As announced on the back cover of the spring 2020 edition of the Alumni Connection magazine, HCC had planned to conduct a one-day fundraising and social media campaign on April 28, 2020, based on the theme "Proud to be HCC."

The goal: to reach 303 new donors in 24 hours and collect stories of inspiration from HCC alumni, staff, faculty, friends and students.

At the time that campaign was conceived, however – back in February – no one had anticipated the pandemic and its devastating impact. As in so many other ways, COVID-19 forced HCC to pivot, and the 24-hour "Proud to be HCC" campaign was transformed into one that seemed more relevant to the times: "Together HCC – A Campaign for Caring." 

"Together HCC" launched on Monday, March 30, with twin goals – to raise money for the President's Student Emergency Fund and collect stories to motivate students and other members of the HCC community whose lives had been upended by COVID-19. In other words, everyone. 

President Christina Royal led off, pledging $10,000 of her own money as a challenge gift seeking 1,000 additional contributions of any kind toward the campaign, meaning either monetary donations or uplifting anecdotes and images shared on social media using the hashtag: #TogetherHCC. 

"This is an unprecedented time in our history that can only be navigated if we work together," Royal said at the time. "Our campaign for caring enables members of our community to offer encouragement to one another and provide inspiration. The financial investment and kind words offered through this campaign are vitally important for our students' success and to the well-being of every member of our community." 

The responses were indeed inspiring. To highlight just a few: 

Alumnus Jonathan Mendez '15, '17, now a U.S. Army specialist stationed at Fort Polk, posted a video of himself on Facebook singing "Lean on Me." 

Sheila Gould, a member of HCC's early education faculty, posted a video on YouTube offering advice for students and staff struggling with work and school while taking care of their children at home. 

HCC student Susan Newman shared a photo of some of the 50 facemasks she sewed and donated to essential workers in the early days of the crisis. 

"Like so many area residents, Holyoke Community College is part of the story of my life," Michelle Ducharme '87 wrote. "My aunt, Sr. Marita Callahan, was a long-time HCC faculty member who taught psychiatric nursing for 25 years. My two sisters and I all graduated from HCC. I associate my time at HCC with a bursting sense of possibility. It was a diverse, welcoming community, and I remain proud to be an alum of a college whose mission is to give everyone a chance." 

The importance of the monetary contributions to the campaign also cannot be overstated.

After COVID-19 broke, applications to the President's Student Emergency Fund soared. Through the HCC Foundation, President Royal established the fund in 2017 to help students facing critical and sudden financial needs, which are typically related to basic needs, such as food, housing, childcare and transportation. 

For the 2019-2020 academic year, which ended June 30, 97 percent of student requests to the emergency fund had come since mid-March. As HCC transitioned to remote learning, nearly $25,000 has been distributed to help students facing income loss and those struggling to pay bills in the midst of the pandemic. The average distribution was doubled from $500 to almost $1,000. 

"Studying and learning remotely has meant added and unanticipated expenses for our students. Faster internet, upgraded technology, housing and food costs, utility bills - seemingly simple shifts in daily life are easy to manage for some, but for many HCC students, they can derail their entire education," said Amanda Sbriscia, HCC vice president of Institutional Advancement and executive director of the HCC Foundation. 

By June 30, the Together HCC campaign had raised nearly $40,000, with most of it – more than $31,000 – earmarked for the emergency fund and the rest going toward the Thrive Student Resource Center, which operates the HCC Food Pantry, and HCC's general scholarship fund. 

The largest single donation was $20,000 from HCC alumna Margaret "Peg" Wendlandt '58 and her husband, Gary, who have supported the emergency fund regularly since it was established three years ago. The rest of the contributions have come in average increments of about $100 from more than 167 donors. 

"This has been, and continues to be, a stressful and challenging time for everyone," Sbriscia said. "The COVID19 crisis has turned the world upside down, and amidst this uncertainty, we still need to do everything we can to provide our students with the education and support they deserve. 'Together HCC' isn't just about providing financial support for them, it's also about providing moral support. Through this campaign, we wanted to let our students and other members of the college community know that it's going to be okay and that we are all in this together." 

Although the fundraising portion of the "Together HCC" campaign has closed, the spirit lives on. To contribute an inspiring image or photo, visit us on social media and leave a post using the hashtag #TogetherHCC or make a donation to the President's Student Emergency Fund at hcc.edu/donate

STORY and PHOTO by CHRIS YURKO: HCC's Culinary Arts faculty posted this pohto from the April 2018 grand opening of the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute to Facebook using the hashtag #TogetherHCC. "To our incredible students – We have your back! We will get through this together!"



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