Suelaymie Alexander has been out of work for weeks. A returning student who first attended FIU in 2003, Alexander has worked in the restaurant industry for 17 years. But the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the industry upside down, and her current employer was forced to close its doors indefinitely.
A single mother with two children at home – ages 3 and 6 – and financial concerns mounting higher each day, Alexander turned to FIU for relief.
Alexander’s story is not an exception. Nearly 1,100 students have requested emergency assistance from the university as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as of April 8 – students whose hours have been cut or who have been laid off, students who don’t know how they will afford rent this month, students who are caring for sick loved ones.Requests total nearly $1.3 million. Two hundred thirty-three requests have been fulfilled so far – amounting to more than $280,000.
More than $1,000,000 in aid is needed to fund the rest.
And the university receives 50 to 100 new requests for emergency aid each day.
“We have seen an unprecedented number of students asking for financial assistance,” said Laura Castillo, director of the FIU Office of Scholarships, which is responsible for processing the requests and dispersing aid. By comparison, the office receives an average 50 requests of this nature in a typical 6-month period.
“They are facing a lot of uncertainty in their home life, which can deter them from focusing on their studies. Our hope is to be able to lift some of the burden from these students so they can continue on their path toward graduation,” Castillo said.
Alexander was among the first students awarded emergency aid during the pandemic.
“I reached out to… FIU with a request for any amount of help while dealing with the unknown. I do not know when the restaurants will re-open, if the government will assist us, or if we will make it through this time with no source of income,” Alexander said. “We are beyond grateful, and, as a mother, to be able to receive help for my children is something I am eternally thankful for. Thank you, my FIU family.”
Richman, who requested their first name be kept private, faces a similar struggle as a new business owner during these uncertain times. Richman has also been granted emergency assistance from FIU.
“Owning a new business and attending graduate school hasn’t given us much room to save for emergencies,” Richman said. “I am so grateful that [FIU] was able to help me when I was worried about the electric and rent being unpaid. I can’t thank donors enough. This rough time would have been much harder if it wasn’t for this scholarship.”
The university has activated FIUstrong to assist students – as well as faculty and staff and members of the community – who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The need among the FIU community grows each day.