Imani Ford ’18, Jovanté Anderson ’19, and team of alums create Laf Alumni Helps relief fund to address students’ financial needs following COVID-19 pandemic
By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis
One evening in late May, Imani Ford ’18, Jovanté Anderson ’19, and three fellow alumni hopped on the phone to discuss a call for help they received from several Lafayette students. It was shortly after spring break, when the coronavirus pandemic forced campus doors to close and students to clear out their dorm rooms. While the College provided aid for the move-out, many students were in need of assistance beyond what Lafayette could provide, including financial resources to pack and ship their belongings, travel to their new living spaces, and obtain the necessary support to transition to online learning. When these particular alums—who are still friendly with current students—heard the plea, they were quick to answer it.
“There wasn’t much talk on the phone that night. We knew what needed to happen,” says Ford, who currently works as a staff assistant at the Wilson Elser law firm. “We just said, if we need to wire somebody money, let’s do it. And we made it happen overnight. That’s just what we do for each other. When I need help, I can call my friends. If my friends need help, they know they can call me.”
That phone call led the five alumni to establish Laf Alumni Helps, an initiative dedicated to providing financial support to students in need of essentials like internet and Wi-Fi access, laptops, storage, moving costs, and more. While Ford, Anderson, and their team started the fund with $500 of their own money, their network has since grown, and they are now collecting donations from any alums, faculty, and staff who are willing to lend a hand. So far, they’ve distributed $1,650 to students who have requested aid. For now, their goal is to reach the $10,000 mark—a mission that is deeply personal to both Ford and Anderson.
“Having just graduated last year, I know what it’s like to be a low-income international student of color on campus,” says Anderson, who is now earning his Ph.D. in English literature at University of Miami. “I see the ways people of various marginalized identities often struggle not just to graduate, but to support families back home, all while trying to find time to enjoy the experience of being in college. I’m happy that I’m able to lift even a slight bit of weight off a few students’ shoulders.”
“I was that student who needed help and didn’t know where to go,” says Ford, echoing Anderson’s sentiments. “We weren’t in school during the coronavirus. These are new challenges that we didn’t have to face, so how can we see these students struggling and not offer our help? I don’t have many means, but I have some means, so I’m going to do as best as I can to help these students out. Our job as alumni is to make the campus better. Even if we graduated, we still are part of the community. It’s important for us to take on these causes and be connected to the students.”
How You Can Help
The fund’s process begins with, and is made possible by, the contributions of generous donors. Although donations are now mainly being made by alumni, anyone and everyone are welcome to give to the cause. Contributions can be made through the Laf Alumni Helps GoFundMe account or via CashApp at “$StudentReliefFund.”
Ford, Anderson, and their teammates are currently leveraging the initiative’s social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to spread the word about the relief fund and recruit more donors.
How Students Can Get Help
Once donations are received, the Laf Alumni Helps team gauges how and where to distribute the funds on a case-by-case basis, depending on each student’s urgency and form of need.
Students who would like to receive financial help can contact Laf Alumni Helps through social media or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to request or access an application for funds. On the application, students can detail how much money they need and what they need it for. Once their applications are reviewed and it is determined if they can receive the full amount requested based on the availability of funds, students then receive the money via Venmo or CashApp.
Laf Alumni Helps is also currently working alongside student-leaders of various organizations—such as Association of Black Collegians (ABC), Queer People of Color (QPOC), International Students Association (ISA), and Muslim Student Association (MSA)—to inform even more students about the opportunity.
Ford implores the Lafayette community, “If you know of any students who need help, send them over our way.”
Plans for the Future
Aside from acquiring more donors and increasing the number of alums helping to lead the cause, Ford would like to obtain foundation status for Laf Alumni Helps, and possibly pass on the fund’s reins to the next generation of alumni, who she says will have an even more precise idea of what kind of aid Lafayette students will need following the COVID-19 crisis. She is also currently helping other higher education institutions build similar programs for their students.
In addition, Ford hopes to create a student advisory board that will allow Laf Alumni Helps to forge an even stronger connection with students and gain deeper insight into their needs. In return, Ford aims to build an alumni network to financially support Lafayette’s student organizations, and help provide future first-year students with dorm room essentials.
“The students are eager to move forward with us, and we’re eager to move forward with them,” Ford says. “I see a relationship starting to form from this, and I’m really excited about it. I could have used that help when I was there, and I did get that help from different foundations. I want to bring that help to the students at Lafayette. And with the traction that we’re starting to build, I think we will be able to do that in the future.”
“Imani is the powerhouse of the initiative,” adds Anderson. “She has built and expanded on our vision, and so we are hoping to make this a long-term project that can further help support students on campus.”
Editors’ note: For those students who continue to experience hardship due to the pandemic, Lafayette College is providing support for technology needs. Students in need of IT assistance can find additional information and make a request here.