‘If You Give It to Us, It Goes to Students’
“It’s a direct way for anybody who wants to participate and give right to students,” said Josh Perkins, Ph.D., assistant dean of students and director of Kent State’s CARES Center. He is talking about the center’s Giving Tree donation initiative that kicked off Nov. 27 and runs through Dec. 15. Perkins explains how the Giving Tree works in this video:
Meeting the Needs of Students in Crisis
The Kent State CARES Center, which stands for Crisis, Advocacy, Resources, Education and Support, opened in April 2021. A climate study conducted in 2016 identified areas of need in which Kent State could support students. The pandemic also exacerbated student needs and made the university more aware of them. This information helped university leadership position the CARES Center as a resource for basic needs for students in crisis within the framework of the center’s four pillars: food security, housing stability, financial empowerment and mental well-being.
How Students Can Get Help
Students can come to the CARES Center, or call, email or submit an online basic needs support form. Students then meet with one of the center’s case managers, who learns about the student’s situation and then connects them with on- and off-campus resources.
“In one academic year, fall 2022 and spring 2023, from the middle of August to the beginning of May, the center served nearly 1,100 unique students who came through and utilized one of our services. Some students utilize multiple services more than once,” Perkins said.
This year, Perkins said that usage is up between 10-20%. “I think some of the students are realizing that we are here now, and as the word gets out, students are able to know what we do,” he said.
“Getting the word out” includes digital signage, the faculty newsletter and a webinar that counts toward Kent State employee’s annual Beyond Compliance requirement. The webinar, called “Supporting the Unknown Needs” is presented by Perkins along with his colleagues at the center, Assistant Director Sydney Jordan and Outreach Program Coordinator Janda Roberts. The next presentation will take place in February 2024.
Getting to ‘An Upward Trajectory’
The center’s immediate goal in helping students is to get them out of crisis and into what Perkins calls “an upward trajectory,” by connecting them with resources including food, financial assistance and mental wellness help, like Kent State’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
“Our case managers do a great job of connecting with students, but our goal is to get them out of that immediate crisis: they don’t have enough food; they have nowhere to live, they don’t have the money to pay the rent; they have an eviction notice,” he said. “We help get them out of those situations to hopefully buy them a little more time to get into a more secure situation or even just the ability to think straight.”
Perkins said that the center serves as a connector to help students navigate state and federal resources, like SNAP and Medicaid, and guide students who don’t know where to go or how to ask the right questions.
‘We Are That Place for Anybody’
Perkins said that they see a lot of students in high financial need, but the center welcomes all students in crisis. “We really want to be that place for anybody,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what your situation is. If you have a basic need, come here. What I tell people is that we flip over absolutely every rock to be able to help them in their situation.”
Visit the Giving Tree
Items listed on the Giving Tree’s ornaments are those tracked as “high-need items” by the center. They are the items in the food pantry that students typically take, along with personal care products and personal items. There are also meals on the ornaments, like a spaghetti dinner, for example, and donors can purchase everything needed for that.
“It really is meant to be a direct way for anybody who wants to participate and give right to students,” Perkins said. “You know exactly what to get. We function on donations, and what I tell people is that we get everything in the hands of students. You give it to us, it goes to students and that’s where it goes. We do everything in our power to meet the needs of our students and also to capture what those needs are.”
The CARES Center is located on the first floor of the Kent Student Center, Suite 106, near the elevators. Their offices are open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 330-672-7575 or email CAREScenter@kent.edu.