Text: Together we are Greater

SOS Fund helps Abena Afari ’21 travel home to Maryland

Abena Afari ’21’s original plans for spring break were to travel to Spain with her peers in her Spanish seminar, Studies in Contemporary Spanish Literature and Film.

Abena Afari '21
    Abena Afari ’21

But when the highly anticipated trip to Seville, Barcelona, and Madrid was called off due to concerns about the coronavirus, she had a decent Plan B. The third-year student made plans to participate in the Young, Gifted, and Black Gospel Choir’s (YGB) spring break tour across the upper Midwest.


While disappointed, Afari understood the circumstances and why the College was sending students back home. In her case that was Latham, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. But there was a problem. Afari’s plane ticket home was already purchased for a later date, after the conclusion of the YGB Tour.

“I eventually had to change my flight two times as the deadline for departure moved up,” Afari says. “The College was helpful in communicating the urgency of the situation to the campus community, providing support in terms of moving out (providing storage bins, having faculty and staff offer help, etc.) and offering financial assistance. I personally was in need of an extra storage bin and financial assistance to accommodate the change in my flight plans.”

When the College announced March 10 it would switch to distance learning after spring break to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of students like Afari had concerns about how to travel home and about having the technology at home to access online classes.

The Supporting Our Students (SOS) Fund helped resolve both problems. The donor-generated fund supported immediate and ongoing student needs related to the pandemic. Gifts helped students travel home through airplane tickets and rental cars. The fund also was used to supply Wi-Fi for students without internet access at home.

The SOS Fund is being administered through the College’s financial aid office. As of April 23, $110,211 had been raised from 461 donors. Alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and friends of the College have contributed to the fund.

“I think that the support from the alums was invaluable,” Afari says. “For them to willingly come together and support us in such a way is truly priceless.”

Afari, a first-generation college student, is majoring in biochemistry and Spanish. She says distance learning has been a test of resilience for many students. A silver lining though is students are getting acquainted with new methods of learning.

“Not everyone’s home situation may be ideal, comfortable, or the most conducive to learning, so my heart goes out to everyone who may be facing a lot of adversity during this shift to distance-based learning,” she says. “I think that the situation can help many of us learn how to be students outside ur traditional classroom setting.”

Personally, Afari says the adjustment to distance learning has been best for her humanities courses. The science classes haven’t translated as well because it’s hard to replicate lab work, but she’s managing.

“I also think professors are a lot more flexible given the situation, so that has been helpful, too,” she says.

She also is appreciative of the donors who, despite having to deal with their own complications brought on by the virus, still made the effort to help students return home.

“I know that alumni support has gone a long way for a number of students, and I can’t thank them enough for their contributions,” Afari says.

— by Jeremy Shapiro