STAR program confronts hidden poverty at Tech

Nearly every college student worries about grades, employment and the odds of making it to an 8 a.m. class on time. At Tech, these are considered common concerns that students openly discuss amongst peers, faculty and staff.

Less openly discussed is the issue of poverty and how it impacts college students. It can be easy to assume that every student has the freedom to learn and succeed in all aspects of college life. In reality, the lack of financial resources affects the quality of life for many students and prevents them from succeeding in school. Some are not able to afford adequate food, housing or clothing. Others struggle to pay medical bills or to afford other personal expenses.

The Institute has resources in place to alleviate some of the financial stressors for students in need. The Students’ Temporary Assistance and Resources (STAR) program coordinates between four campus organizations that provide aid: Klemis Kitchen, Campus Closet, Dean Griffin Hip Pocket Fund and an emergency housing scholarship.

“STAR is basically the safety net for students who have a financial crisis,” said STAR coordinator Steve Fazenbaker. “It is hard to get into Georgia Tech and it is hard to stay at Georgia Tech. You don’t want a little financial hiccup to derail what would otherwise be a pretty successful career here, so our job is to help minimize the distractions from any kind of hiccup that might come along.”

The STAR program was founded as a project of the Provost’s Office but moved to the Division of Student Life earlier this year in order to expand its reach. During this transition, two independent studies indicated that there are around 2,000 students on campus who would benefit from the program. The studies showed that 70 students currently use STAR resources.

Klemis Kitchen works with the nationwide, student-run Campus Kitchens organization to provide meals to students with food insecurity. Student volunteers collect leftover food from dining halls twice a week and package these leftovers into individual meals that are then used to stock the Klemis Kitchen pantry.

Campus Closet began as a service for students who come to college without professional attire to borrow suits for interviews and career fairs. The service has since built a collection of over 800 suits for men and women that anyone can loan regardless of financial need.

Another service that helps students whose financial situations may suddenly change is the Dean Griffin Hip Pocket Fund. This resource provides students interest-free emergency loans of up to $1,000.

“It could be something like your laptop got stolen or broken, and you just don’t have the time to go through the process of going to financial aid. It is zero percent interest and you have the semester to pay it back, so students really appreciate that,” Fazenbaker said. The fund also takes into account situations where students cannot pay the loan in the allotted time; however, the return rate on the loans is 98 percent.

The final area of assistance provided by STAR is the emergency housing scholarship. If students find themselves suddenly in need of housing the student may work with STAR and Health Initiatives’ VOICE program to find temporary housing until a more long-term solution can be secured.

The previously mentioned studies found that the demographics of those who are resource-challenged at Tech match those of the population at large. However, at least half of the cases of students in need of emergency housing involved LGBT students.

“A lot of times it either has to do with a student coming to college and coming to understand his or her sexuality, and as they begin living it out, either roommates are uncomfortable with it and they are forced to leave, or in much more tragic cases, parents are uncomfortable with it and the student is cut off,” said Fazenbaker.

Situations like these demonstrate how quickly a student’s financial situation can change. That is why it is important for the campus community to be aware of the resources available to those with financial need.

Despite the fact that many students in need could benefit from these programs, many do not take advantage of the programs. The reason for this discrepancy is likely due to a lack of awareness, so Fazenbaker is working to raise the profile of STAR on campus. One way is by establishing a board of students to increase the visibility of these issues and provide a network of support.

Students who wish to be involved with this managing board are encouraged to contact Fazenbaker. In addition, applications will open up later this semester for STAR Ambassadors.

There are other ways to help those in need on campus. Campus Kitchens and Klemis Kitchen need volunteers to package meals; a schedule for volunteering is available on OrgSync. In addition, this semester STAR is launching an initiative where campus departments can sponsor Klemis Kitchen for a month and collect goods for the pantry.

“This is overly simplistic, but the fact that we’re at a place like Georgia Tech, where we’re trained to identify a problem and solve a problem, it is very easy for us to overlook where there are struggles,” Fazenbaker said.

“It is important to raise awareness of these issues and the fact that we’re all human beings and we all hit bumps, and we need each other to get through those times. If we can accept and embrace that, then life would be a lot easier for all of us.”

For more information about STAR, visit studentlife.gatech.edu/content/need-help.

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Copyright 2018