111-studentsA Helping Hand

How the Good Samaritan Fund helps students in a pinch

By Cyndee Fontana-Ott

The $1,000 car repair bill landed with a discouraging thud for Fresno State senior Sigifredo Valladares.

Money already was tight and the COVID-19 crisis reduced hours at his retail job. Valladares had nothing to spare for smog-related repairs to his car. Without it, he wouldn’t be able to get to and from his job at all, let alone to campus once it reopens.

“I still had all of my necessities like gas money, groceries and rent,” he says. So he applied to the University’s Good Samaritan Fund, a resource for students facing unexpected financial roadblocks to academic progress and personal well-being.

Valladares, an agricultural education major from Kerman, is on track to graduate in the fall and, with four A’s and a B, has adjusted to the world of virtual instruction.

He says he felt relief when the grant covered his unexpected bill. “I feel incredibly lucky and blessed that they were able to help me,” he says.

Also known as the Good Samaritan Grant, the fund helps students in a sudden financial pinch. Students who exhaust other resources — such as financial assistance and aid — can request a grant for situations such as a lost job, stolen laptop or catastrophic event. For example, 17 students were displaced at the start of the academic year after a fire in an apartment complex.

“The Good Samaritan Fund turned out to be incredibly important during that time,” says Dr. Janell Morillo, associate vice president for Student Health, Counseling and Wellness.

Through the bulk of the 2019-20 academic year, 111 students received Good Samaritan grants typically ranging from $500 to $1,500. Fallout from the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the need, with 96 students applying over just three weeks in April.

“So many students have lost employment and are really worried about paying rent and having money for groceries,” says Diana Karageozian, clinical case manager for Student Health and Counseling Center.

The fund operates under the umbrella of Project HOPE (Health Opportunity Prosperity Education). It was established through contributions from the community and private donors; Fresno State President Dr. Joseph I. Castro also has provided support from his office.

“Most college kids need financial help, often in an emergency,” says alumnus Ray Steele, the former president and publisher of The Fresno Bee who supports the fund. “Students — even those on scholarships or who receive a housing allowance — encounter financial woes and shouldn’t be distracted because they don’t have the money to pay for essentials like medications, toiletries, clothing like underwear or a few gallons of gas to get home to see mom and dad for the holidays.”

Students complete an application — frequently working with graduate assistant Devin-Lee Balbach — that is reviewed by a committee. Even students who don’t qualify for a grant can receive other kinds of guidance or assistance.

The Good Samaritan Fund was highlighted in last November’s Day of Giving through a video telling several students’ stories.

“People relate to having these moments in life where you are in need,” Morillo says.

That includes Valladares, who enters a teaching credential program this fall. The first-generation college student is motivated by the sacrifices of his parents, who worked the fields with the dream of a better life for their children.

“I think I owed it to myself and those who have supported me throughout my childhood and throughout school to do something with the opportunities that I have been given,” says Valladares, who hopes to teach in the Central Valley.

Money for college is a squeeze. Valladares’ father passed away when he was a boy, and his mother now takes care of his younger brother and her father.

So Valladares, who also received a Good Samaritan grant as a freshman, wants other students to know about the resource.

“I know I’m not the only one who is going through this right now, and I’m sure other people have it worse,” he says. “I really want them to get the same help and reach out like I did. We all need a little help from time to time.”

— Cyndee Fontana-Ott is a freelance writer based in Fresno.


To donate to the Good Samaritan Fund, contact:

Richard Verducci

David Hembree