Sunshine Fund brings rays of hope 

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This story was written by Charles McNair.

“College is tough enough in normal times,” says Carrie Smith, assistant dean of students for the University of Georgia’s Student Care & Outreach (SCO). “During a pandemic, students probably feel the weight of the world more than ever.”

Smith and her colleagues coordinate assistance for UGA students who run into hardships by tailoring interventions that support each student’s unique circumstances. And the need for such a community of care is growing.

SCO provided services to 10,000 more students in 2020 than in 2019. Now, as students return to in-person learning for the 2021-22 academic year, adjustments to independent living, advanced academics, mature relationships, approaching adulthood, and a lingering pandemic will create even higher demand. 

Fortunately, help is coming from a welcome source: generous UGA parents. 

Donors to the Parents Fund directly support safe-campus initiatives, scholarships, leadership experiences and other programs that enhance the quality of life for students on campus. The Parents Leadership Council (PLC), a group of highly engaged parents who are eager to make a direct impact on undergraduate student life, administers those funds (and others) to student and campus organizations through its annual grants program. In 2021, the grants program awarded $18,000 to SCO for general spending and another $25,000 to enhance an endowment for a new mental health resource, the Sunshine Fund.

In 2020, PLC members Christie and Scott Krase of Chappaqua,  New York, established the Sunshine Fund to support well-being programs for UGA students adjusting to college life. (Sunshine is the middle name of their daughter.)

“The fund allows SCO to support students’ mental health treatment or to alleviate circumstances that may be negatively contributing to their well-being,” Smith says. “The Sunshine Fund also provides support for suicide prevention initiatives.”

In February 2021, the Krases offered to match all Sunshine Fund gifts up to $225,000. UGA parents stepped up to this challenge and collectively gifted $255,000–surpassing the original matching fund total and generously inspiring the Krases to match this new amount. The donations are part of a targeted $3 million endowment that, when fully funded, will provide SCO with a stable ongoing funding source.  

The involvement of parents in creating a healthier student experience underscores a hallmark of UGA’s approach to assistance–making a student feel supported. 

“It’s not just about awarding money and walking away. It’s about developing relationships,” says Smith. “Students are resilient. We get the opportunity to support them before they go out into the world to do amazing things with their UGA degrees.”

When it comes to physical health, people are quick to take cold medicine before it develops into pneumonia. 

“It’s the same with mental health,” Smith says. “We tell students to not wait. And that asking for help doesn’t make you look weak. We all need a little help at some point. Raising your hands when you need it is doing something strong and smart.”