SUNY Old Westbury launches resource center for issues related to family crises, food insecurity and more

SUNY Old Westbury launches resource center for issues related to family crises, food insecurity and more
Students walk to class in front of the new Academic Building at SUNY Old Westbury. (Photo provided by AJ Letterel)

SUNY Old Westbury has been awarded a three-year U.S. Department of Education grant to establish the Panther Community Care Center to aid students in gaining access to services and assistance related to the basic needs of themselves and their families.

“Earning a college degree for many students today requires more than the traditional financial and academic supports institutions are used to providing,” said Timothy E. Sams, president of SUNY Old Westbury. “With the cost of living going ever higher, we want to help students and their families to meet their financial needs. Our goal is to have a single point of support, Panther Community Care Center, to help stabilize students by helping to meet their financial gaps, which will allow them to better focus on their studies.”

Through the $878,057 awarded to the college via the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, Panther Community Care will coordinate with federal, state, local and community-based agencies to enhance support related to basic needs security in four key areas. These areas will include:

  1. Assessing students’ situations and connecting them to resources available for themselves and their families, as appropriate. This work will be done in collaboration with Single Stop, a nonprofit organization the combines community networks and cutting-edge technology to help organizations provide centralized access to essential tools and services.
  2. Expanding the Panther Pantry to enhance our efforts to address food insecurity challenges of our students. The college’s food pantry opened in the fall 2018 and experienced more than 950 visitors last semester, more than double the prior semester.
  3. Creating an “advancing wellness initiative” for outreach and support of mental, emotional and social student wellness.
  4. Establishing a transportation fund to help offset the costs of transportation for those with greatest needs.

Panther Community Care will be staffed by a social worker and mental health counselor funded via the grant and will support students with proactive case management, needs assessment, advising and career professional development.

“Receiving this grant is further evidence to our college’s unwavering commitment to student success and well-being,” said Cristina Notaro, assistant provost and principal investigator for the project. “Panther Community Care will deepen our continued focus on supporting the holistic needs of our students and help us build a team and space to achieve these objectives.”

Of the competitive 38 awards announced by the U.S. Department of Education, Secretary Miguel Cardona said: “We cannot be complacent with a higher education system that leaves so many college students from diverse and underserved backgrounds without the supports and resources they need to succeed in school and, ultimately, graduate. The $30 million in grants announced – including those of the new Postsecondary Student Success Program – will help colleges and universities advance innovative and evidence-based strategies to better support their students and help address students’ basic needs, launch affordable open textbook programs, improve campus resources for veterans and create opportunities for youth who’ve struggled with violence to get their lives back on track. These investments reflect the Biden-Harris Administration’s continued commitment to raising the bar for equitable outcomes in higher education and making sure students from all walks of life can thrive.”

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