A gift in winter
The 20th century British poet Edith Sitwell wrote, “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
I enjoy many of winter’s simple pleasures, including the beauty of snowflakes and moonlight, traditional feasts and gift-giving, and hot cocoa with warm conversations. Warding off winter’s chill by bundling up in a snug, woolen coat contributes to an overall sense of serenity and comfort.
But winter can also be a time when harsh conditions lead to hardship. Emergencies multiply. Their effects compound.
According to an analysis by the United Way’s ALICE Project, 39 percent of Virginia’s households were either living below the federal poverty level or identified as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE). The ALICE designation describes working families with incomes above the poverty level but still less than required for basic living costs, such as housing, food, child and health care, and transportation. Within SVCC’s service region, the number of households at or below the ALICE or poverty level ranges from 49 percent to 60 percent, much larger percentages than the statewide averages.
Income at ALICE and poverty levels supports only a modest lifestyle. It leaves no room for savings, so families are often left vulnerable to emergencies and unexpected expenses. A surprisingly high heating bill, a car that won’t start, or a doctor’s visit can threaten to topple plans and cast the future into darkness.
Several factors contribute, including low regional pay scales and increases in the basic cost of living that outpace wage growth. Education is a documented solution. Career and technical certifications and associate-degree programs provide rapid access to well-paying jobs and pathways to family-sustaining careers.
Pursuing educational goals, however, can temporarily stress finances. On the road to better pay and professional security, students encounter such expenses as tuition, books, technology, and transportation that can strain limited budgets. Illustrating this concern, recent studies have found that 13 percent to 21 percent of community college students experience food insecurity, yet college students are often ineligible for federal food assistance programs. In light of this need, SVCC has established food pantries at locations across its service area.
Additionally, to help students facing food emergencies and other crises, the Southside Virginia Community College Foundation administers funds that help meet urgent needs so that students can remain on track to reach their education goals. These opportunities are made possible through the generous contributions of people who understand the importance of helping students succeed. If you would like to join them and make a gift that will usher in a brighter future for hard-working students with unexpected challenges, contact the SVCC Foundation office at (434) 949-1051.
DR. AL ROBERTS is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.