Racking up good deeds: CLC program helps out students

Many students at Central Lakes College are performing a delicate balancing act in their lives. They balance school, work, family and other responsibilities, often stretching their budgets thin as they cover rent, tuition, groceries and other nece...

Many students at Central Lakes College are performing a delicate balancing act in their lives.

They balance school, work, family and other responsibilities, often stretching their budgets thin as they cover rent, tuition, groceries and other necessary items.

A mini-grant program from the CLC Foundation works to make sure these students don't have to choose between buying books and buying groceries, or worry about paying for an unexpected car repair.

The Random Acts of Kindness program provides funds for students experiencing financial emergencies, CLC Foundation Director Pam Thomsen said.

If a student is experiencing a financial emergency, they can approach a staff or faculty member who will put them in contact with an adviser, Thomsen said. The adviser helps determine the student's eligibility by checking the restrictions for the different funds. The restrictions are pretty lax, she said, as some funds are designated for veterans, while others pertain to students receiving a federal Pell Grant. The process happens quickly, in order to take care of a financial emergency as quickly as possible.


"We have multiple ways to assist the student, so we're just looking at the best possible fit for that student's particular need," Thomsen said.

The largest maximum grant in the pool of funds is about $500, Thomsen said, while others have a cap of $250-$350. But nothing is set in stone, she said, so if a student requires $370 for a car battery, it'll be funded.

After the fund is distributed, other campus supports step in to assist with any other issues the student may be experiencing, Heisserer said. They create a case plan to address any other issues before they might become something bigger.

"We just have to keep those wraparound services and circle back with that student and close the loop to make sure that the student doesn't end up with another financial emergency," Thomsen said.


Car trouble averted

CLC student Leslie Anderson recently received a helping hand from the RAK program after she found out the brakes on her car needed to be completely redone. Her check engine light came on about a month ago and she knew she would need new brake pads, but was unaware the issues would be as extensive as they were.

Students at the college will perform some car repairs, Anderson said, so she took her car to them to have it repaired. They gave her the bad news: the cost of the parts to repair her brakes would be more than $500.


Like a lot of students, she had purchased a used car. The previous owner had probably put new brake pads on the car without fixing the bigger brake problems, she said, which passed the problem onto her.

"I've been driving it a couple years, and unbeknownst to me, the brakes were wrecked," Anderson said.

Anderson was fretting about what to do when a counselor at the college told her about the RAK program, not realizing Anderson was in need of assistance.

"That came right at the right time, very perfect," Anderson said. "It helped me so much."

Anderson lives in East Gull Lake with her elderly parents, she said, so she relies on her car to get her to and from campus, where she also works in the workstudy program. She's currently pursuing a degree in liberal arts and graphic design.

When Anderson went to pick up her car from the students who had been fixing it, she received some good news.

"They said, 'It's already been taken care of so don't worry about anything,'" Anderson said.

The RAK grant couldn't have come at a better time in Anderson's life.


"It definitely was $500 I did not have and I needed so bad," Anderson said. "I feel so blessed to have been able to utilize that grant."


Memorable gifts

One notable RAK recipient resonated with Thomsen. A small engine instructor sent her a student, also a veteran, who had recently returned from serving overseas to find out his house had burned down while he was gone. He was living in a fish house, coming to campus early, borrowing books from other students and using the campus food shelf. Despite all these issues, he reached out for assistance because he needed gas money to get to and from campus.

The student had a definite need, Thomsen said, and the college supplied him with gas cards. They also put him in touch with the college's Veterans Resource Center which was able to help him find housing.

Several RAK recipients have helped families with children with special needs, Thomsen said. One parent had a child with special needs who had their refrigerator stop working, which is required to store their child's medication.

"We were able to assist with a refrigerator, along with another community partner, we were able to get that refrigerator for that family," Thomsen said.

Not only do students have needs, Thomsen said, but their families do too. By helping out students, it positively impacts their families, she said.


"You're really impacting a much larger group than just the student themselves," Thomsen said.

Starting somewhere

The program was started by a donor who understood the rock and a hard place students can be put in when they have to decide between paying for a necessary textbook or buying groceries, Thomsen said. The donor was worried a financial emergency might keep a student from completing their degree.

It started around 2006-07, Thomsen said, and was ramped up because of its effectiveness, as well as the existence of a great need. It quickly became an effective tool for CLC staff and faculty to help students, she said.

A fund was then started for these student financial emergencies, Thomsen said. Since then, it's helped students pay for car batteries, rent, daycare, insurance, necessary books or course tools and more.

"Just a whole host, something that could really derail a student from being able to get to campus to go to class," Thomsen said.

Multiple funders have joined in since the fund started, Thomsen said. Those include individuals, area businesses, the Otto Bremer Foundation and the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation.

"Our community is really our partners," Thomsen said. "We wouldn't be able to do what we do without all the community resources that we have available to serve individuals."


The amount of funds distributed each year through the RAK program varies, Thomsen said, from $10,000 to $25,000. It varies because it's based on student need, she said, so during the Great Recession, the program was in high demand. Time of year is also a factor, with high utility costs in the winter sometimes being a catalyst.


A great investment

People who give to a charitable cause want to make sure their donations make a difference, Nick Heisserer, director of Student Services said. It's easy for donors to see the impact their donations make in the lives of the students they help, he said.

"There's just a very clear return on investment," Heisserer said. "Not only are you helping somebody in need, you're helping them finish their education so they can provide for themselves."

Not only is CLC a very affordable college, Heisserer said, there's also a "robust support of programs like this Random Acts of Kindness program." Great Lakes approved CLC's grant proposal for RAK funding because of the work the college has already done to leverage its existing resources, he said.

"We have even more funds available to help students, that life might get in the way of their education," Heisserer said. "And we don't want that to prevent them from completing their education."

Something as simple as an expensive textbook for a class could halt someone's education, Thomsen said.


"When a student has to make a choice about food, shelter and a book, the book's gonna lose," Thomsen said. "And they have to make some of those difficult decisions."


SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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