D.R.E.A.M. Helping local College close the digital divide.

D.R.E.A.M. Helping local College close the digital divide.

October 10, 2019

Earning good grades is only half the battle for some students in the City University of New York (CUNY) system. Maintaining a roof over their head and food on the table, while working on a college degree, are additional challenges for far too many. It’s a struggle that administrators at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, Brooklyn are well-aware of and making every effort to assist vulnerable students.

The D.R.E.A.M. Foundation has joined the battle. On September 10, the foundation conducted a financial literacy workshop and distributed backpacks with school supplies to more than 100 students who attended the event at Medgar Evers’ campus. 

DeCosta Headley, the foundation’s chairman, and founder encouraged the students to persevere and to help each other along the way.

“We don’t make ourselves,” Mr. Headley told the students. “We cannot achieve our goals by ourselves. We have to want and desire to be a part of each other.” 

Indeed, we often must depend on others to get over hurdles in life. For many students across CUNY, the challenges are daunting.

In 2018, 48 percent of the 22,000 CUNY students who responded to New York #RealCollege Survey said they were food insecure last year. Among those surveyed, 55 percent were housing insecure and 14 percent were homeless, according to the report that was released in March.

Through its Transition Academy program, the school offers a range of services, from helping students navigate the New York City Department of Social Service’s shelter intake process to maintaining a campus food pantry and distributing MetroCards, said Medgar Evers Student Life Specialist Waleek Boone.

Marcelle Miranda, the financial professional who facilitated the workshop, said it’s critical to educate financially vulnerable students about how to manage their money—now and in the future. 

There are obstacles ahead, she warned the students. 

“I’m talking to you now because I want you to get it together,” Ms. Miranda stated. “People today work hard but retire poor. Don’t let that happen to you.”

The financial expert highlighted that the traditional pillars of retirement are now in doubt: poor saving habits, fewer companies offering pensions, and the unsustainability of social security. She urged the young adults not to fall into the spending trap of trying to keep up with their social media friends.

“It’s not what you earn that counts. It’s what you keep. A common characteristic among wealthy people is that they’re very conscientious about their spending,” she told them.

Transition Academy is in its third year of serving students.

“When we started Transition Academy, we were targeting homeless students. After we evaluated and engaged with the students, it turns out that more of them are food insecure versus homeless,” Mr. Boone explained. “We have seen over 500 of them that are either homeless or facing eviction or food insecure.”

“What I find most challenging personally is that a lot of the stories are heartbreaking,” commented Medgar Evers Interim Dean of Student Affairs Alexis J. Mclean.

If a student with five children needs 10 bags of groceries Mclean wants to make sure the program can deliver. “We haven’t reached that point,” Ms. Mclean said, underscoring that Transition Academy is trying to build capacity through grants and partnerships. 

One of the biggest challenges is serving students who are experiencing housing insecurity. “Transient students will fall off the grid for weeks or months at a time,” the dean emphasized. 

They both praised the D.R.E.A.M. Foundation’s financial literacy event. 

“We have a lot of students who come from neighborhoods and families where that type of knowledge isn’t infused into them or readily available,” Ms. Mclean stated. “They tend to have information that’s pretty basic, so they are not really aware, for example, of how interest works or how taking out a personal loan can hinder them from acquiring other things later in life.”

Mr. Boone added: “It’s important to inform students how to budget their money and prevent them from falling into hardship. 

At the end of the workshop, Medgar Evers President Rudy Crew delivered closing remarks.

“You have to understand how the economy works and how what you do today with your money has impact on tomorrow. For most people in our community, money comes in and out of our hands,” Mr. Crew stated, underscoring that it’s imperative in today’s economy to be an owner and not just a consumer.

Mr. Headley said the D.R.E.A.M. Foundation will continue to support the Transition Academy’s efforts to enable financially struggling students to succeed. 

“Economic empowerment is an important part of our mission,” he added. “We are also committed to education and the development of future leaders in our community.”