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Students Rising Above Organization Helping Lift Struggling Students During Coronavirus Pandemic

by Jennifer Mistrot and Michelle Griego

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- When we first met Students Rising Above Scholar Ysabella Donlan last fall, the then 21-year-old junior was looking forward to the year ahead at University of California, Santa Cruz. Now she's at home, finishing her classes on line, far away from her support system at school. It's a situation she never expected to be in, and one she has found to be difficult.

"I was very afraid," explained Donlan about leaving campus life behind. "Like I just have a lot of anxiety about everything."

Students Rising Above Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Devaney says the non-profit has been in overdrive since the pandemic hit, frantically helping its already vulnerable students like Donlan cope with a rapidly changing environment, offering everything from support with on-line classes to getting students safe housing and food assistance.

"We tell them that we will get through this together," said Devaney.

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Sometimes that simply means SRA advisors checking in with students via a quick FaceTime, Zoom or phone call.

"It's more important than ever to be connecting through our technology so that we don't feel so isolated...for these students who are dealing with so many challenges," said Devaney. "It is incredibly important for them to connect with their peers."

The non-profit has been in overdrive, helping students get to safety. For some, campus closures have had devistating economic consequences, that's because a fair number of SRA scholars have no other pernmanent home other than campus housing.

"We had to fly students back to the Bay Area not only from across the county but from all over the world," said Devaney. "Some of them were on study abroad programs and for those who were displaced from their campuses, they lost their meal service."

SRA is now providing free on-line college counseling, webinars and community resources for COVID-19, not only for its students but for anyone in need. All students, even if they are not enrolled in SRA, can access its hub by logging onto its website.

"We have a COVID-19 resource guide that helps students all over navigate how to take care of themselves, that includes mental health resources, how to face the uncertainty of when college campuses will reopen, what the fall will look like," explained Devaney. "We thought it was really important to offer it up to anybody that needs the help."

But it's the SRA students who are the organization's primary focus during this crisis. Donlan's advisor has been in close contact with her since her university went to distance learning.

"SRA has reached out and said, like, if you are struggling in school if you need help, like, we are here for you," said Donlan.

Donlan says she is lucky that she lives at home with her boyfriend's family, so she did not have to vacate campus housing. Still, being away from school - Donlan's safe space - is a daily struggle as she copes with long-distance learning and worries about when her classes will resume.

"I'm used to going to office hours," said Donlan. "And I can't."

To ease her worries, Donlan's keeping in contact with her SRA advisor, exercising, and focusing on the future.

"I just want to go back to school," said Donlan. "And I hope that happens soon."


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