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University of Akron program helps students facing financial emergencies

Posted: 11:46 AM, Feb 11, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-11 23:19:49Z
Zip Assist program helps students in financial crisis

AKRON, Ohio — Financial emergencies can happen at any time. But when it happens to a college student, sometimes it can be much harder to pay for the emergency.

"We acknowledge that our students come every day with a lot of other baggage and one of the biggest bags is financial concerns," said Allison Doehring, the director for the Zip Assist program at the University of Akron.

Zip Assist is an informational hub on campus providing various resources for students. One of the programs under Zip Assist is the SEFA, or Student Emergency Financial Assistance, program.

SEFA, which is funded by grant money, helps students facing a financial emergency up to $1,000, non-tuition related. SEFA is aimed at helping low-income undergraduate students. In order to receive assistance, students must have at least a 2.0 cumulative GPA and be seen as in "good standing" with the university. They must also be able to provide documentation of the financial emergency.

“A lot of our students come to us needing help with housing, utilities and food. Those tend to be our top three. But we also see a lot students who need help with child or car repairs," Doehring said.

Advisers within Zip Assist work directly with companies and landlords to pay the bills, rather than handing money over to students.

Faith Hamilton is one of about 300 students who've been helped by the SEFA program.

Hamilton is a third year commuter student at UA, where she's double majoring in Social Work and Psychology. She drives 20 minutes every day from her home in Copley, where she lives with her grandmother who has been diagnosed dementia. Last spring, on top of her full class schedule and caring for her grandmother, she had one more stress: car troubles.

“It was stressing me out. I have to drive 15-20 minutes every day," she said. "I think any day I could be on the side of the road, anything could happen.”

Hamitlon spent most of her afternoon worrying about how she was going to pay for her car repairs rather than her schoolwork.

"I was estimating paychecks before they even came in," she said.

Finally, someone referred her to the SEFA program. She got approved and within two days her car was fixed and paid for.

"I’m a witness. I’ve witnessed it. I know how helpful it is. I know how stressful things can be especially being a college student," Hamilton said. “To just have that barrier lifted over my shoulder. It was amazing. After that I couldn’t stop telling people about it.”

Doehring said while they're more than happy to help students with the one-time payment, their goal is to create a lasting relationship with their students.

"We don't just pay rent and see you later. We really develop that rapport with them and encourage them to come in and meet with our team more long term financial literacy education," she said.

UA plans to apply for additional grants this year to continue the program next school year.