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Rebel Aid 2 to Respond to COVID-19 Pandemic

As the University of Mississippi prepares for the fall semester, administrators and financial aid officers are acutely aware that many members of the Ole Miss family continue to struggle due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help serve the needs of students, their families and the university community, UM is hosting a second two-day fundraising event, Rebel Aid, set for Tuesday and Wednesday (June 16-17).

The first Rebel Aid event in April received a swift response from donors who supported urgent needs related to pandemic closures, both on campus and off. For Rebel Aid 2, organizers’ goals are to help ensure that every Ole Miss student has a chance to enroll, stay healthy on campus and receive the services and assistance they need to continue their educational pursuits.

“Our No. 1 priority is making sure every student who wants to be here in the fall is able to do so,” said Larry Sparks, vice chancellor for administration and finance. “We have students who were financially secure in February who are unable to afford their total tuition and fees for the fall. They have parents who lost jobs, or were small business owners who have taken a severe hit.

“Their need is temporary; they just need help getting over the hump. We don’t want these students to fall through the cracks.”

To help those students, donors will have an opportunity to contribute to the new Rebel Retention Fund, which will give small grants to students in good academic standing to clear the balance on their accounts and keep them enrolled.

“We know from experience that students who intend to take a temporary leave from college, especially because of financial stress, often have a very hard time coming back,” Sparks said. “Just $200 or $100 can make the difference in a student completing their education.”

Rebel Aid 2 also will address alumni and student needs through new Career Center projects aimed at helping graduates of all ages navigate the worst job market in memory. A new, user-friendly software platform for student, alumni and employer access was already in the works, but the project has much more urgency now, said Toni Avant, the center’s director.

At the same time, traditional Career Center events such as the Engineering Career Fair, All Majors Career Expo and the Graduate/Professionals Schools Fair no longer can happen in person and must move to a virtual format.

These technological upgrades come at a cost, but in the end will provide even greater opportunities for students and alumni than before, Avant said.

“These upgrades will allow the Career Center to maintain and advance the services it offers, to expand its reach beyond our current employer partners, and empower employers, students and alumni who want to connect with one another,” Avant said. “The dollars raised during Rebel Aid will have a huge impact by making our resources and services more accessible to students and alumni alike.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic first hit Mississippi in March, donors have contributed more than $176,000 to projects designated to respond to students in crisis and support University Health Services. Since then, students have applied for and received nearly all the money raised for the Rebel Relief Fund and the Christopher C. Holman Student Emergency Fund.

In addition, eligible students in need received more than $6.5 million in aid from the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

“We’ve been able to assist almost 4,000 students,” said Laura Diven-Brown, director of financial aid. “But there are many more requests out there than available funds, unfortunately.”

Federal regulations on the disbursement of CARES assistance means many students do not qualify, even those in great need, Diven-Brown said. Her staff depends on the Rebel Relief fund, Student Emergency Fund, Ole Miss Food Bank and, now, the Rebel Retention fund to fill in those gaps.

To help bring Ole Miss students back to campus in the fall and support them as they pursue an education, these funds must be replenished, Diven-Brown said.

The Food Bank – a resource for all members of the university community – has seen unprecedented demand. In six weeks through March and April 2020, the Food Bank provided 2,500 meals, double the normal demand seen in an entire semester. The demand has not abated much over the summer and is expected to increase exponentially when students return.

But the commitment to seeing Ole Miss students thrive has never been stronger and encouraged alumni and friends to join the effort, said Charlotte Fant Pegues, interim vice chancellor for student affairs.

“Just like people everywhere, our students are grappling with an unknown future and have many needs,” she said. “No matter what the coming months hold, our university’s priority is helping students have the resources and preparation necessary to enjoy meaningful careers and lives.

“We hope our alumni and friends who are in the position to support Rebel Aid will do so for our students.”

University Health Services, a resource for students, faculty and staff, is also preparing for increased demand in the fall by purchasing additional personal protective equipment, coronavirus testing kits and supplies. Like all health clinics and hospitals, University Health Services has stepped up safety protocols during the pandemic, Pegues said.

At its core, Rebel Aid 2 has one purpose: to bring the Ole Miss family back to campus safely and help ensure everyone’s success during a difficult time, organizers said.

“We ask everyone in the Ole Miss family to come together – online – for this special event celebrating the spirit and heart of our university,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges unlike anything the university has faced in modern times. Your gifts to Rebel Aid 2 will provide additional resources to help more of our students experiencing hardships continue their education this fall.

“We will get through these times successfully by working together.”

To participate in Rebel Aid 2, visit https://ignite.olemiss.edu/g/rebelaid on Tuesday or Wednesday (June 16-17). Donors can choose from six projects: the Rebel Retention Fund, University Career Center, Rebel Relief Fund, Ole Miss Food Bank, University Health Services and the Ole Miss Fund.

For more information, contact Angela Atkins, digital giving officer, at adm1@olemiss.edu.

By Angela Atkins

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