As the winter holidays approach, a broad-based group of Ohio University faculty, staff and administrators has launched a new initiative to assess the University’s efforts to meet the basic needs of students experiencing food, shelter or financial insecurity.
“The project, the Basic Needs OHIO Initiative, is a grass-roots effort to identify what’s being done already, as well as to uncover and plug any gaps in coverage,” said University College Dean Elizabeth Sayrs.
Sayrs, Vice President for Student Affairs Jason Pina, and faculty and staff members of the Basic Needs OHIO coalition, including faculty members from the Wealth and Poverty Theme in Arts and Sciences, presented the initiative to the Ohio University Board of Trustees at their Oct. 20 meeting as an introduction to the early stages of the program.
“A lack of basic needs – food, shelter or finances – should never prevent our students from realizing their academic promise,” Sayrs said. She stressed that it’s a grass-roots effort being driven by faculty and staff and an effort that continues to grow. And while the topic of helping those in need gets more attention during the holidays, the needs exist and must be addressed year-round.
The University already runs the Baker University Center Food Pantry through its Division of Student Affairs, as well as a crisis response team, an international break housing program, the Green and White Scholarship, while also providing FAFSA support and a variety of other programs that help students in need every day.
“The goal is to raise awareness of and further coordinate those efforts, determine where gaps exist, and seek funding or other resources to address them,” Sayrs said. “The effort also goes beyond students; there is potential to involve the community and the region, as well.”
“Being attentive to the needs of our students, and helping them maintain a healthy quality of life, is a top priority for Ohio University,” says Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis. “To see students, faculty, and staff coming together in support of this initiative speaks volumes to the community’s resilience in times of need. Bobcats take care of one another.”
Over the next several months, a series of committees will begin a variety of tasks:
- Gather statistics on poverty, food and housing insecurity, and other poverty indicators for the counties of each of Ohio University’s campuses.
- Compile a list of existing community resources, campus programs and initiatives, and campus and community groups who may partner on programs.
- Identify, prioritize and strategize seeking external and internal funding opportunities, including external grants and donors.
“The goal is to accomplish those tasks by mid-February and move on to the next stage of determining how the University can maximize its efforts to assist students in need,” Sayrs said. The group has also distributed the University of Wisconsin HOPE Lab survey of food and housing insecurity to assess the status of students’ basic needs, and is exploring grants that can provide emergency assistance to students in need.
“Helping to address the needs of students plays a key role in allowing students to focus on their academic efforts, as well as to help ensure their ability to return each year. There’s no question,” she said, “that there are students in need.”
The Baker Food Pantry is proof. On Oct. 20, President Nellis and members of the Board of Trustees delivered 393 cans and 171 miscellaneous boxes of food to the Pantry, on the second floor of Baker Center; those supplies are now nearly exhausted. The Division of Student Affairs works to restock the pantry every month.
“The Basic Needs OHIO Initiative is a very exciting effort and one that is crucial to improving the circumstances of all of our students,” Trustees Board Chair Janetta King said. “The Board thanks the organizers for their leadership and looks forward to learning about the progress of this initiative, including how the Board can support its successful implementation.