$10,000.00 Received for Support!
Despite a paralyzing pandemic, Project Discovery Alexandria (PDA) received $10,000 from the “2020 Emergency Tech and Supplies Fund” and the Alexandria Resistance Fund. With the award, the Project Discovery of Alexandria Board (PDAAB) and the fundraising team were able to support Alexandria students suffering from the educational inequities wrought by the pandemic and remote learning. This effort was lead by Michael Crifasi, PDAAB Fundraising Chair. The paragraphs that follow represent a Report of this initiative.
Many Alexandria residents and students often lacked the technology, safety materials, and even basic food required to maintain learning in a lockdown world. This was true for those at T.C. Williams High School and many forced home from college. In response, PDAAB created and ran an “Emergency Tech and Supplies Fund.”
The awards consisted of items requested directly by the students, which were often bundled into one of two “packages.” The first package included a new laptop, a USB charger, a package of school supplies, a package of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and gift cards for food. The second included the school supplies, the PPE, and the gift cards. On occasion, and based on need, we supplemented the packages with other items like Wi-Fi hotspots and six-month Wi-Fi subscriptions.
All awards were made based on merit. As a Board, we evaluated each student’s application against the same criteria, awarding points for good academic standing, participation, and strength of their essay. The strongest applicants were eligible for the laptop package, while those who’d given less time and thought to their entries still received at least some health and food support.
Student Engagement Process
Through a competitive application and essay process, students detailed the pandemic-related challenges they faced and selected items that would improve their chances to thrive while away from school. The populations we serve are low-income and many would be first-generation college students. It might not be surprising that their problems broke our hearts. From loaner laptops that faltered so badly that doing schoolwork on a cell phone was a better option, to households with both parents either laid off or on leave and food dwindling to nothing, our applicants faced near-impossible chances of keeping up with their schoolwork. To help them, we provided awards to nine students, five at T.C. Williams and four from Alexandria but already enrolled in college. In demographic terms, the vast majority were both female and from minority populations.
And while we would have loved to help even more students, we ran into two barriers:
- The first came in the difficulty we encountered in simply contacting students who often lack reliable access to email (or, maybe, just felt burnt out by all their other online commitments at the time).
- The second barrier appeared in funding. Though we stretched our dollars as far as we could, meeting the students’ requests meant buying many quality laptops and Wi-Fi tools—expensive items, but also those most frequently cited as really needed.
The students and their families thanked us and the Alexandria Resilience Fund euphorically. We’ve included some of the students’ photos, posed with their new items, as evidence. And the impact could be felt within our Board too; perhaps amplified by the darkness of this year and the timing of sending out awards during the holidays, many members couldn’t stop remarking what a blessing the project had turned out to be. The impact will also extend beyond the grant period. We asked the students for permission to share their likenesses and stories in our materials going forward. We intend to share them to build awareness in the community of the deep need of some of our local students, possibly through social and earned media, as well in our fundraising appeals in 2021. In fact, the enthusiastic response to our Tech and Supplies Fund has already spurred conversations about whether we should change our traditional support mechanisms, i.e., scholarships, to add items like laptops. Time will tell, but overall the experience with the Alexandria Resilience Fund has been rewarding and offers good promise for the future.
The needs of low-income and first-generation Alexandria students in 2021 will almost certainly mirror those of 2020. Remote learning will continue to fail students without the means to purchase their own technology and internet access. We can share student essays to the effect, but “loaner” laptops often malfunction or prove unusable due to a lack of wireless connection; students cannot stay healthy in their homes without cleaning supplies and PPE, which they find sold out at stores and/or resold at insane markups online; and without proper nourishment while families struggle with joblessness, students must fight hunger rather than study.
Even a return to school will prove difficult for our students, college included, as some mentioned they currently hold the only job in their family. Students even noted that they hoped our food assistance program might continue during good years, as they foresaw going to college and still struggling to eat properly. There is much support available to Alexandria students thanks to the fortunes of our community. During these times, however, much more is necessary.
Grants and introductions to other donors would be amazing means of support in 2021. Our fundraising has historically relied upon multiple in-person events, including our annual Walkathon. Not only did we have to cancel our events in 2020, but it looks like we’ll need to cancel them again in 2021. These events contribute somewhere near 50% of the revenue we raise and their loss will greatly diminish our ability to provide further educational support and scholarships. We will do everything we can to raise funds virtually, but we had just started building our digital presence and online community when the pandemic hit. We simply don’t have the database to compensate for the loss of in-person fundraising and the demographics we fundraise from have been hard hit by the pandemic’s economic havoc. We’d be most grateful for further chances to apply to ACT for support and to be directed towards donors in better financial shape.
On behalf of all of our students and members of our Board, we say thanks. During an incredibly difficult year, the Resilience Fund offered us the chance to do something important, new, and needed by our Alexandria community. We’re so grateful and send you our best wishes for a brighter 2021. Please also let us know what other information we can provide to help your efforts.