Charity goes the distance to help student
Veronica Swan-DeGraff might not have made it back to college this year had she not had some help.
With fewer companies hiring in Bermuda because of the pandemic, she wasn't able to find a summer job. And then tuition costs went up at AdventHealth University, the Florida institution where she's a student of biomedical science.
“I anticipated that a summer job would help to cover a lot of my academic expenses,” she said. “I budget very well and have been able to successfully save money in the past towards school. I had also applied for several scholarships in order to help my father out.”
Without any of that in place, financing the 2020-21 school year became “very challenging”. And then Allison Parry stepped in.
A recipient of the Green Family Scholarship until her graduation with a degree in neuroscience this year, she wanted to give back to a student who had been impacted by Covid-19.
“The Greens really helped me a lot,” she said. “I wasn't financially supported by my parents, so I was really thankful to get that scholarship; it pretty much got me through school.
“And so I really wanted to do something. I was thinking how, this year, if I was going back to school and I wasn't able to work during the summer I would have struggled.
“I usually save up my money from the summer to pay for rent, for things outside of tuition. So I was really thankful that I wasn't going back to school and I just wanted to help someone that would have been in that situation.”
Through Knowledge Quest she launched a charitable initiative, Run to Read, that invited people to run, walk or swim throughout the month of July. Twenty-one people travelled more than 800 miles, raising more than $16,000 through sponsors. The Green family then stepped in, boosting the amount.
“I didn't really think it was going to be that big. I didn't think it would be as successful as it was, but I was really glad we were able to help a student who was in that situation,” said Ms Parry, who got the idea from a friend in Canada who was involved in a similar fundraiser but “on a smaller level”.
“She was just getting her donations based on the miles that she was running and I thought that was a really good idea. Especially with quarantine and everything, people were exercising so much and getting out all the time that it kind of worked out really well and it was a socially distant-friendly fundraiser.”
She was thrilled to be able to present $32,500 to Knowledge Quest, having partnered with the charity because of the help it gives to “financially needy students”.
“I had contacted them initially when I had the idea for the fundraiser and they were willing to go through their applicants for their scholarships and they forwarded me a few applications of students they thought would fit the criteria that I had relayed to them,” said the Dalhousie graduate who is now working in a medical office in Bermuda while applying for medical school.
“Veronica just really stood out. She'd done so much for our community and she just worked so hard despite a lot of the challenges that she had been through. She wasn't able to work this year, so she was exactly the kind of person I started the scholarship for.
“She was so overjoyed. She was just so thankful and so grateful to everyone who donated, participated and organised [Run to Read] and I think she really just wants to work harder now just to make everyone who was involved in it proud.”
Ms Swan-DeGraff is now studying online with hopes of physically returning to AdventHealth in January.
“My summer was completely rearranged because of Covid-19. I had to quickly pack up and depart from Florida to make it back home, as my school was shut down in a matter of days. I also faced the risk of both borders here and there being closed which would have left me stranded,” she said.
“This grant will allow me to focus on my courses of study which is demanding. It will also allow me to focus on my grades and successfully fulfilling my goals, without the burden of great financial concerns. For this I am most grateful.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Green said his family had been impressed by Ms Parry's “achievement and considerable compassion”.
“We believe that education is incredibly important and we are pleased to be able to support Bermudians studying abroad, particularly those who are committed to returning to Bermuda and sharing their new-found knowledge with us all,” he said. “We wish Veronica Swan-DeGraff the best of luck in her studies and we expect to see great things from her.”
Run to Read was a first for Ms Parry, who had never organised a fundraiser on her own before or hosted one of that scale.
“I think I would like to continue it next year, but probably not do it in July because I think the heat killed a lot of people — myself included,” laughed the runner who pulled out 15 miles before her target of 100 because of an injured knee.
“Maybe I would do it in May, when things are a little bit cooler, but hopefully next year it will be a little bit easier to plan because the structure is already in place. I would love to be able to help someone every year that's in kind of a financially unstable position.”