The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are difficult enough on individuals who are fortunate to be able to work from home. Families that have endured job loss are finding it even more challenging. But post-secondary students in our communities are some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, often facing the stresses of financial hardship while trying to stay on top of daunting academic workloads. Now there is a way to help struggling students – the University’s Student Emergency Fund.

When Londa Rose Pyne was younger, she dreamed of going to university but didn’t think her dream would come true.

“People tell kids they can grow up to be whatever they want, but because of my childhood, I thought I wouldn’t ever get to be anything,” says Pyne, a fourth-year student in the Bachelor of Indigenous Social Work program at First Nations University of Canada (Saskatoon campus) – a federated college of the University of Regina.

Born in Calgary, Alberta, into a family that struggled with poverty and addiction, Pyne became homeless by the age of four.

“My mom and I got evicted from one of our houses, and we moved around a bunch,” she says.

“When I got into college, I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I wasn’t sure if I’d get in, if I was smart enough. I had all that self-doubt that prevents us from chasing our dreams.”

Pyne and her mother landed in Nipawin, Saskatchewan. The eldest of four children, Pyne helped her mother raise her siblings. After graduating from high school, Pyne struggled with addictions for more than a decade. However, she persevered and went on to receive a Youth Care Worker diploma from SIAST, where she graduated with distinction.

“When I got into college, I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I wasn’t sure if I’d get in, if I was smart enough. I had all that self-doubt that prevents us from chasing our dreams.”

Today, Pyne is realizing her dream of becoming a social worker. When she graduates, she will be the first in her family to earn a university degree.

“I’ve grown up without much of a support system, and I’ve gotten good at living with very little," says Pyne.

With no one to turn to, Pyne applied to the University of Regina’s Student Emergency Fund. When her application was accepted, it was a huge relief.

Still, when the pandemic hit, and Pyne’s car broke down, things got desperate. Pyne had been working at a 40-hour-a-week, unpaid practicum and taking an overload course. This left her with only enough time to work one paid shift a month. She could barely pay her bills or buy groceries, and she needed to purchase parts for her car.

Londa Rose Pyne, a fourth-year student in the Bachelor of Indigenous Social Work program at First Nations University of Canada (Saskatoon campus). (Photo by David Stobbe)

“I’m a go-with-the-flow person, but when my car situation happened, that’s when it became overwhelming,” says Pyne. “I didn’t have anyone I could call to give me a ride, or borrow money from to get my car up and running.”

With no one to turn to, Pyne applied to the University of Regina’s Student Emergency Fund. When her application was accepted, it was a huge relief.

“I was filled with joy,” says Pyne. “It helps me realize that I do have a support system. With all the hard work that I’m putting into my degree, I don’t have the people around to support me or keep me going or tell me that I’m doing a good job or anything like that, so it makes me feel that I’m on a good path and that the U of R is a good support system for their students.”

“The University of Regina's appeal for student emergency funds gave me an opportunity to contribute where help was needed."

From her years of working closely with students, Dr. Kathleen Wall, retired U of R English professor and 2001 recipient of the Alumni Associations Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching, understands the normal financial pressures of student life. When COVID-19 arrived in Canada, Dr. Wall was looking for a way to help students impacted by the crisis.

"Like many people watching the pandemic from relatively comfortable vantage points—a secure income and a comfortable home—I kept wondering what I could do for the millions of Canadians who had lost jobs, or for students who wouldn't find summer jobs this year, but I felt helpless,” said Wall. “The University of Regina's appeal for student emergency funds gave me an opportunity to contribute where help was needed."

In the past, many students got by living paycheque to paycheque with little left to cover unexpected expenses. Some used to rely on money earned from summer employment to cover the cost of tuition and living expenses for a full school year.

The University of Regina Student Emergency Fund was created as a lifeline for students like Pyne, who are being hit particularly hard by the economic impacts of COVID-19. While caring donors have risen to the challenge, the number of applications for the Student Emergency Fund continues to grow each day.

In the past, many students got by living paycheque to paycheque with little left to cover unexpected expenses. Some used to rely on money earned from summer employment to cover the cost of tuition and living expenses for a full school year.

While each student story is unique, the recurring theme is that many students who were just able to scrape by before the pandemic hit, are now struggling to make ends meet and cover life’s necessities – never mind focus on their studies.

Michelle Intarakosit, a third-year nursing student, is another beneficiary of the Student Emergency Fund.

Living in a single-parent home with her mother and grandmother, Intarakosit feels fortunate to have such a caring family.“I do my best to support myself, but my mom supports us all – she pays for food and keeps the lights on at home. She really is the breadwinner of the household,” says Intarakosit.

Michelle Intarakosit, a third-year nursing student and beneficiary of the Student Emergency Fund. (Photo by David Stobbe)
Michelle Intarakosit, a third-year nursing student and beneficiary of the Student Emergency Fund. (Photo by David Stobbe)

“It was such a relief,” she says. “It’s exactly the help I need right now. As a student, it feels so great to receive this type of support from your own university. So many other students are in a similar situation to me and having the Student Emergency Fund available to those who need it most is crucial.”

Since COVID-19 hit, Intarakosit’s situation has become much more difficult. Intarakosit works as a casual employee at a care home for adults with physical, mental, and intellectual disabilities to hone her professional skills and help to pay the bills. She was expecting increased hours over the summer, but as a result of COVID-19, she can no longer rely on her job as a steady source of income for her family. To make matters worse, Intarakosit’s mother owns a sewing and alteration business that has been forced to shut down.

On the day that Nadine Hiltz, a single mother of two children, was supposed to start a new job, her daughter’s school was closed due to the pandemic. As a result, she was unable to keep her job.

“We don’t know when she will be able to reopen her business and aren’t sure what she will receive from her applications to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit and Small Business Emergency Fund Payment,” says Intarakosit. “There is no money coming in. It’s a tough situation for us all.”

Wanting to help her mother out, Intarakosit has been periodically paying for groceries.

“My mother is always happy to support me, but I hate having to add to her burden with my bills during these uncertain times,” says Intarakosit, who is grateful to have received financial assistance from the Student Emergency Fund.

“It was such a relief,” she says. “It’s exactly the help I need right now. As a student, it feels so great to receive this type of support from your own university. So many other students are in a similar situation to me and having the Student Emergency Fund available to those who need it most is crucial.”

Many students who previously did not qualify for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit will now be eligible for funding through the Canada Emergency Student Benefit and Canada Student Service Grant announced on April 22. However, many students have been out of work for months with no source of income and they require financial support beyond what is being offered. Previous months’ bills still need to be paid and living expenses continue to mount.

On the day that Nadine Hiltz, a single mother of two children, was supposed to start a new job, her daughter’s school was closed due to the pandemic. As a result, she was unable to keep her job.

“I am at a loss for income,” says Hiltz, who received her last student-loan payment in March.

“With the anxiety and worry of the pandemic, and the fact that my son is high risk, it was nearly impossible to concentrate on my studies. When I finally got some downtime to myself, I was too exhausted to work.”

A second-year Indigenous Social Work student at First Nations University of Canada (Saskatoon campus), Hiltz is juggling school and full-time parenting, with no access to childcare. Both Nadine’s father and son are considered at a high risk for a serious infection if they catch COVID-19, so Hiltz and her children are in self-isolation from the rest of her family.

Nadine Hiltz, a single mother of two and second-year Indigenous Social Work student at First Nations University of Canada (Saskatoon campus). On the day she was supposed to start a new job, her daughter’s school was closed due to the pandemic. As a result, she had to give up the job. (Photo by David Stobbe)

 

“It was extremely difficult to finish the Winter semester,” says Hiltz, who has a three-year-old and nine-year-old. “With the anxiety and worry of the pandemic, and the fact that my son is high risk, it was nearly impossible to concentrate on my studies. When I finally got some downtime to myself, I was too exhausted to work.”

“I am extremely grateful,” says Hiltz. “Battling this pandemic has been difficult. Financially, it is very scary. I am grateful that the University is helping their students. A lot of people will benefit from this help.”

From the moment her son wakes at 6:30 a.m., Hiltz is focused on caring for her children, preparing meals, playing with them, cuddling them, helping them read, bathing them, and cleaning up. Every day, Hiltz and her children travel on a nearby gravel road to collect rocks and find frogs. They return home for quiet time and soon after supper, they start their nightly routine of reading together and getting ready for bed.

With no income, and a full schedule, Hiltz applied to the Student Emergency Fund and received much-needed financial support to help her pay rent and buy groceries.

“I am extremely grateful,” says Hiltz. “Battling this pandemic has been difficult. Financially, it is very scary. I am grateful that the University is helping their students. A lot of people will benefit from this help.”

Arian Pekaric is a third-year student at the Hill School of Business from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who lives happily in Regina with his wife.

Like many students who juggle part-time jobs and full-time studies, he has worked as a sales consultant and marketing manager to pay for his tuition, rent, groceries, and other necessities. Last year, after his father was laid off from work, Pekaric picked up more hours to help support his family back in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“I knew that I needed to find another way to support my family,” he says. “I was in contact with the Bosnia and Herzegovina embassy here in Canada, but it is a poor country and they are unable to support students right now.”

“The truth is that many of us came here in search of a better life and an education with little money for extras or emergencies such as these.”

When the pandemic hit, Pekaric was working at a gym and received a layoff notice, as all athletic facilities were ordered to shut down. Without his primary source of income, Pekaric went in search of other options.

“I knew that I needed to find another way to support my family,” he says. “I was in contact with the Bosnia and Herzegovina embassy here in Canada, but it is a poor country and they are unable to support students right now.”

Pekaric contacted other international students, as well as University of Regina Financial Services, and was put in touch with Kathryn Boyce from the University of Regina Students’ Union, who encouraged Pekaric to apply for the University’s Student Emergency Fund. He applied and received an emergency bursary.

Arian Pekaric is a third-year student at the Hill School of Business from Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was working at a gym but received a layoff notice when the pandemic hit. (Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

“Staff at the University have made my situation so much less stressful,” says Pekaric.

Although many domestic students have been able to return home to their families while continuing their studies, hundreds of international students remain in Regina with no immediate support system to fall back on. After receiving the bursary, Pekaric was able to buy groceries and pay bills.

“There are factors outside of our control that have made paying rent and buying groceries difficult, and our grades are suffering because of it. This is bigger than any of us and none of us know what will happen next. We need financial support to be able to go back to focusing on our studies.”

“This truly is a global pandemic. People may think that international students will be okay because we were fortunate enough to come to the University to study,” says Pekaric. “The truth is that many of us came here in search of a better life and an education with little money for extras or emergencies such as these.”

While the federal government has lifted, until August 31, the 20-hours-of-work-per-week limit for those international students working in essential services (health care, critical infrastructure or the supply of food or other critical goods), international students remain unsure if they will be eligible for the same social benefits that other students receive.

“We all know that the life of a student can be quite stressful – but most don’t understand the impact of this situation,” says Pekaric. “There are factors outside of our control that have made paying rent and buying groceries difficult, and our grades are suffering because of it. This is bigger than any of us and none of us know what will happen next. We need financial support to be able to go back to focusing on our studies.”

The Prairie Kitchen Party was to be the primary fundraising event for the Student Emergency Fund, but it was cancelled. Regina’s Redhead Equipment generously turned their event sponsorship into a pledge to match up to $10,000 in community donations. The campaign was a success, and Redhead Equipment and community donors raised $20,000 for the Student Emergency Fund. But so much more is needed. “We're all struggling with the impact of COVID-19,” says Redhead Equipment president Gary Redhead. “Supporting our future leaders – in business, education, health care, engineering, sport – is so incredibly important at this time. Being part of keeping student dreams alive is invaluable and supporting our community is integral to who we are at Redhead Equipment.”

As of June 8, almost $325,000 has helped 330 students pay for necessities like housing and groceries. U of R staff are working diligently to continue processing the hundreds of applications that have already been submitted – with an even larger influx of applications expected in the coming months.

With the number of applications rising each day, the Student Emergency Fund is, once again, running dangerously low. As of June 8, almost $325,000 has helped 330 students pay for necessities like housing and groceries. U of R staff are working diligently to continue processing the hundreds of applications that have already been submitted – with an even larger influx of applications expected in the coming months.

All gifts to the Student Emergency Fund – no matter their size – are welcome lifelines to students like Pyne, Intarakosit, Hiltz, and Pekaric, and so many of our 16,000-plus domestic and international students.

To help students in need, like those you’ve read about here, visit the University of Regina’s Student Emergency Fund webpage at:  https://giving.uregina.ca/degrees.

About the Author

Evie Ruddy lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, where they work as a communications officer, freelance writer, and audio walking tour producer.

Feature photo by iStock.