Our experiences shape us. They impact who we are as people, how we interact with the world, and how we face and overcome challenges. As we work together to combat our current global health crisis, I wonder how this experience will shape me, how it will shape us.

I keep a note tucked away in my desk drawer. It is my steady reminder of the impact an individual can make. It reminds me of the power of community, even when we are faced with obstacles.

The note is from Jacob, a recent graduate of Southern Oregon University.

Jacob and I met by chance five years ago. It was a somber day, thick with pain and sorrow. It was just days into spring term, and our students had yet to receive their federal financial aid. This was not an ordinary day for anyone; it was the day that a gunman opened fire at a local community college. As I walked to a meeting I noticed a student with his head held low, eyes fixed on the ground. On most days, I would have been absorbed in my own thoughts, considering the meeting I was headed toward and the conversations that were likely to follow. But this day was not ordinary, and I noticed this student differently. As I walked passed, I realized he was crying.

My peripheral vision caught something and forced me to stop, turn around, and reach out to Jacob. I asked if he was OK. When he couldn’t speak amid the tears, I asked again but more gently. “Are you OK?” Through tears, Jacob shared that his financial aid disbursement was still two or three days away. He was living in his car and hadn’t eaten. He just wanted to attend spring term and graduate. We had lunch together that day, and I learned more about Jacob. He had come to SOU from another state and was financially strapped. Jacob didn’t ask me for help and went to class having eaten his first meal of the day. Jacob’s story stuck with me throughout the afternoon.

SOU is a community that supports its students wherever it can. Kindness, care, compassion, courage and patience are at the heart of who we are. These are our values. Your generous support of SOU students acknowledges this and demonstrates the power of our community.

I called Jacob’s faculty advisor, who shared that Jacob was an exceptional student, gifted even. He had earned a prestigious scholarship. Jacob had enormous potential and was  determined to attend graduate school; he just needed a little help to finish college.

When I came across Jacob later in the day, I gave him $100 so he could get groceries and perhaps find a warm place to sleep. It was a small gesture, but Jacob’s eyes said everything. Someone cared.

Days later, Jacob stopped by my office with a note—the one in my desk drawer. “My life changed the day I met you. Someone offered me a place to live, and others have donated a sleeping bag and some food. Thank you for caring.”

When I think about Jacob today, it reminds me of the power of our Raider community. Each of us can be the bright light that keeps a student enrolled and moving forward, especially during times of uncertainty. Too many of our SOU students face unstable housing, food insecurity, or other issues that cause financial distress. This is especially true today, when many of our students’ lives will be forever changed by our current global health crisis.

This is Jacob’s university. My university. Your university. Your gift today demonstrates the power and strength of our Raider community and allows us to provide support to more students like Jacob.

There is a growing national trend of college students experiencing financial hardship and often struggling to cover basic necessities. Several SOU programs directly support students in need. These include the SOU Food Pantry and SOU Cares. The Food Pantry provided more than 5,000 pounds of food to SOU students during fall and winter terms, and more is needed.

For students whose challenges are especially acute, university professionals provide rapid support through SOU Cares. Mental health counselors, financial aid advisors, and a housing support team review each student’s situation and provide remedy wherever possible.

These are challenging and uncertain times for all of us. New communities are often formed during crises. We reach out to others in new and different ways. We want to help. We want to contribute what we can to make a difference.

Please join me in supporting our SOU students. Together, we can make a difference in their lives.

We are grateful.

My best,

Janet Fratella