A huge fundraiser to support both students and historically black colleges and universities has decided to go virtual this year. United Negro College Fund says now, more than ever, help is needed to not only keep students applying, but to keep them enrolled in school.
Even as a kid, Velvet Gunn was always singing, dancing, writing and painting. She owes that support to her mom, who she says would let Velvet follow her every whim.
“She’s extremely happy that I got my degree but also that I’m getting paid for my art!” Gunn said.
Gunn calls herself a "creative freelancer."
“I taught theater for 10 years, I paint, I sing, wherever my creativity brings me, I do graphic art, I do web design," Gunn said. But, getting to where she is today wasn't easy.
“When I went to college or was deciding to go to college I knew I wanted to do something in the arts, I had the talent and the determination, but I didn’t have the money," Gunn said.
She had her eye on Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. They were going to give her just the right amount of money for her to attend. Things were going well, until her junior year when she ran out of money.
“I went on the website, I had heard of UNCF before but I had never gone on the site until my junior year. And they saved me. It was so easy, it was personal," Gunn said.
Right on time, the funding came in and Velvet was able to graduate.
Now, she uses her degree to support herself and her art.
Brain Bridges, Vice President of Research and Member Engagement at the United Negro College Fund says stories like Velvet's are what drive the organization to continuously look for support.
Since 1944, the organization has helped over 500,000 students get an education, and raised over $5 billion dollars for students and colleges.
“To hear some of these students, their testimonials sometimes, teary eyed, telling stories how they wouldn’t have gone to college without the UNCF scholarship or how they didn’t have an idea where their life might have gone or given the background they came from this would be transformative simply because of the scholarship UNCF gave them," Bridges said.
UNCF surveyed more than 5,000 students across their member institutions to understand how the pandemic was affecting them. The results were disheartening.
“Over half said their financial stability had declined during COVID-19, 40 percent said mental well-being had declined and those were 2 and 3 times more likely to want to transfer to be closer to home to help their family,” said Bridges.
And he says, while some reported mental improvement, their responses said otherwise.
"Those stories are heartbreaking. 'I don’t know where my next meal is from, everyone in my household is unemployed, I’ve had to take on 50 hours of work in a hospital rife with COVID and it’s a mental strain on me.'”
The organization's annual Walk for Education is one of the many fundraisers that supports students. This September 19th, the walk will be virtual. They're urging people to participate any way they can.
“Whether they want to walk, run, walk, bike, dance, we encourage any type of activity along with the support that would come with that in order to participate in the walk and be supportive of UNCF," said Bridges.
He says he wants people to know that all the money they raise goes to support students and the schools they attend. That money supported students like Velvet, who says she'll do anything for UNCF.
“Every time UNCF has something or is needing someone I’m like 'let me know, I will scream to the heavens and let people know about what you all do,'" Gunn said.