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As Donations Dwindle, the Haverford Employee Relief Fund Looks Forward

Following the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the Haverford community, a dedicated group of alumni and employees created the Haverford College Employee Relief Fund. The fund confidentially administers critical cash to Haverford employees facing financially vulnerable situations in hopes of ameliorating some of the harms associated with pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. Many college employees lost second jobs and overtime over the past five months, making it challenging to pay rents and face unexpected medical costs. And while the college has managed to avoid furloughs for the time being, many employees with expiring contracts found themselves without a job this summer and struggled to make ends meet.

As of July 22, the fund has doled out $47,180 and raised over $52,426. Despite these impressive figures, the need for the fund remains steady as the economic devastation of the pandemic continues. With an average disbursement of around $1,500, the Review Committee—composed of faculty, staff, and alumni—attempts to distribute their limited funds fairly and match people’s needs when considering the anonymized requests.

“It’s really important to us to think about this fund as a form of solidarity with staff and faculty who are in tough financial times and to think about this not as a value judgment,” said Tamar Hoffman ’16, a member of the Relief Fund Review Committee in a Zoom interview. “We’re not here to make decisions about who is worthy or not worthy. That’s explicitly not the goal. The goal is really just to disperse according to what folks are asking for and what is available.”

In fact, this notion of solidarity was at the heart of the fund’s inception. Conceived by Charles Young of the Dining Services team and Kelsey Owyang ’16, the original vision of the fund was more informal. However, Young and Owyang soon realized that another group of Haverford employees had a similar idea.

“We kind of combined our efforts and that’s how that’s how it’s come to be,” Owyang said over Zoom. “Several steps back, of course, the impetus was the school closure and seeing other schools do mutual aid or emergency funds. And wondering what Haverford could do and notice that institutionally they weren’t doing much.”

After all, many were disappointed by the college’s response, or lack thereof, to the needs of employees. In contrast with the Chaplain Fund, an employee emergency relief fund founded in 1992 at Middlebury College, or the Bowdoin Staff Assistance Fund, the Haverford Employee Relief Fund is independent from the college, which according to members of the Review Committee has been hesitant to show support, much less help out with funding.

“The mission of the college, as it’s stated to me by the college administrators, is providing education to students. Its mission is not its employees, its mission is the education of the students,” said Craig Borowiak, Associate Professor of Political Science and member of the Review Committee in a Zoom interview. “And so if the college were to fundraise for its employees, which are mission critical in their language, but not the mission, it might raise some complications for them.”

Vice President and Chief of Staff Jesse Lytle defended the college’s lack of financial support for the Employee Relief Fund, stressing that Haverford avoided furloughing employees and continued to provide base pay to student workers.

“In support of Haverford’s educational mission, it’s the College’s goal to maintain policies and practices that systematically and equitably consider the needs of all of our diverse faculty, staff, and student employees, with the understanding that financial expenses that Haverford incurs are primarily borne by our students and their families,” wrote Lytle, in response to an inquiry from the Clerk. “The College (largely through the Department of Human Resources) seeks to be responsive to individual faculty, staff, and students who might be facing specific hardships while striving to deploy its available resources equitably, and it continues to do so through the COVID crisis.”

Yet the fund’s work is based on the acknowledgment of the crucial role that employees play on campus—especially when it comes to a student’s development. And the creators of the fund are not alone: the vast majority of the fund’s donations come from young alumni donating small amounts of money, usually under $50. Their gifts are often accompanied by comments about the centrality and importance of employees, especially staff, in their lives at Haverford, thanking them for their advice and even helping them graduate. “I feel very strongly and I know a lot of other alumni students feel this way as well, that this is a really good opportunity to show [employees] how much they mean to us. And there aren’t many formalized opportunities, you know, besides saying thank you,” said Owyang.

While the dedicated base of alumni has helped the fund flourish thus far, without the financial backing of the college, the fund was recently forced to put a hold on new requests. Hoffman attributes this to the fact that many people who had the ability to contribute perhaps already had. “Now it’s just a matter of either getting the word out to more people or acknowledging that we’ve just tapped a lot of what people are able to give,” she said.

For now, the fund has no plans to cease operations and committee members are already considering the possibility of a longer-term, post–COVID-19, fund. That said, as the fund looks to the fall, the make-up of the Review Committee may change: it is hoping to include current students and schedule constraints associated with the school year may force current members to leave. For more information on the fund, on how to donate or submit an anonymized request, please visit their website.

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