Categorized | LONGFELLOW, NOKOMIS, SCHOOL

Being the bridge: South High Foundation helps students in financial crisis

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

By CHLOE PETER

Judy Ayers, South High Foundation

The South High Foundation, 3131 19th Ave. South, was started in 1983 with only $75.
Their goal was to provide financial assistance to students and school programs in order to enhance the students’ ability to learn. It’s come a long way since then. In the 2017 school year, the South High Foundation funded more than $62,000 in grants for athletics, academics, fine arts and extracurricular activities.
When asked how many students were impacted by grant money, foundation president Judy Ayers said, “I would tell you that every student at South High is.”
Normally, students and teachers would be able to meet with Ayers or another member of the foundation’s board in order to request a grant. But now, COVID-19 has changed the way they are able to meet people’s needs. Staff are only allowed in the school once a month to get their mail, all meetings are done remotely, and challenges of the pandemic brought on more families with financial needs. They had to think of a way to continue giving money to South High families in crisis.
The South High Emergency Relief Fund was created. This fund is for families who have gone through financial crisis or homelessness during the pandemic and Uprising. Sheri Harris, a social worker who has collaborated with the South High Foundation for 20 years, works with a team made up of other social workers in order to run the fund.
“We problem solve to take care of whatever the need might be,” Harris said.

Sheri Harris, South High social worker

How this helps
A family that particularly stuck out to Harris was one whose members all contracted COVID-19 at the same time. They were too ill to get up and cook. They were unable to see anyone outside the family or have someone they knew come help as they needed to remain quarantined. But, they reached out to Harris and she gave them an e-gift card. This way, they were able to order in food until they were strong enough to cook for themselves once again.
“What everyone knows is the full impact but seeing it on an individual level – the challenges of COVID-19 – made the difference,” Harris said.
The South High Emergency Relief Fund serves many families like this. Donations can be made through PayPal or GiveMN on the South High Foundation’s website, southhighfoundation.org; specify relief fund. Families can reach out if they are in need by contacting Harris at Sheri.Harris@mpls.k12.mn.us. After families reach out, the foundation transfers money to gift cards or e-cards for rent, insurance or groceries. Harris and the social work team then work with families to see if there’s anything they can do in the long term to help them through the crisis.
“Being able to help with this [rent] just one time means that they aren’t looking at eviction. They’re looking at another month when unemployment could kick in or when the stimulus could come through,” Harris said.

A united community
Even during the challenges the pandemic and the Uprising have brought on, both Harris and Ayers mentioned that the community has still been incredibly helpful and banded together for a greater cause. Normal fundraisers for the South High Foundation like the pancake breakfast or the golf tournament were cancelled, but donations have still been coming in. Teachers at South High held a food drive and graduates, even those who now live in other states, have continued to donate to both the Emergency Relief Fund and the Foundation itself. But, they still hope to grow even more.
“With all of the cuts that schools seem to face every year, there’s more and more need. I see the Foundation being able to fill those needs,” Ayers said.

Moving forward
Looking toward the future, the foundation wants to be able to fill more of the gaps between families or students in financial need and how to help them get an education. They want to get to the root of what causes struggles for families. Ayers is aiming to get more donations from outside companies to pay for bigger programs students may need. Ayers works as a volunteer and does not gain any money from donations, but believes that if people are able, then they should be helping.
“My goal is to continue doing this until I can’t anymore,” Ayers said.
The foundation also aims to create more relationships with students, teachers, staff, and families. They want to directly ask the community what it needs and will do whatever they can to meet those needs in order to give students access to a better education. They don’t want to let the gaps of a financial crisis impact how far a student can go.
“The needs are there and the needs have always been there; the goal is to be the bridge and support in order to help students be the best student that they can be,” Harris said.