Out of Adversity, WLP Members Create InvestInHER

Dec. 16, 2020

Historically, Women in Leadership & Philanthropy scholars are accomplished, focused young women. They arrive at the University of South Florida with a plan. They have selected a major. They know how long it’s going to take them to finish their studies. They know what other obligations they have to juggle and balance, perhaps children at home or caring for aging parents. 

“We’re very proud of the hundreds of young women scholars studying at USF with our help,” said Liana Fernandez Fox, a longtime member of WLP and chair of the InvestInHER effort.

But even the most carefully laid plans can be upended by unexpected events — like the COVID-19 pandemic that began this spring.

“There were arrows coming at them from all sides,” said Fernandez Fox, explaining how for some WLP scholars, job furloughs turned into job losses and eventually trouble making ends meet.

“It’s been really heartbreaking to read some of the stories. Internships that were promised and then pulled. Everything was in place and then, whoa,” said Fernandez-Fox. “We said, ‘Okay, when our students get desperate and have no other place to turn and they decide to call 911, we’re going to be the one who answers that call for them,” said Fernandez-Fox.

Out of adversity, the InvestInHER Student Support initiative was born. InvestInHER provides emergency funds intended to meet the unexpected financial needs that might otherwise derail a student’s progress. This one-time help is meant to supplement the scholarship, mentoring and leadership development services WLP provides to scholars.

It seems almost fitting for this initiative to launch during WLP’s 15th anniversary year. India Witte, executive director of WLP said this new fund is a natural extension of the organization’s original mission.

“We like to think it’s kind of the silver lining of this,” said Witte. “We have seen this as the next step in our wraparound, programmatic servicing of our students.”

Recipients can use the funds for a wide variety of emergency expenses, from paying for necessities like food, housing or utility bills, to covering educational costs, such as technology or course materials. The funds can also be used for conference registration fees, networking event fees, admission exam fees, or education deposits, so scholars don’t miss out on these crucial experiences due to financial circumstances.

An example: WLP scholars who would normally use the campus computer labs to complete their work, found them closed suddenly at the start of the pandemic. This prompted a need to purchase a computer or perhaps expensive software in order to complete their class — an unexpected expense that left many choosing to whether to pay rent or for educational expenses. used up the money they originally budgeted to pay rent. 

“These are the kinds of things that are happening. I hope they feel they can come to us,” said Fernandez-Fox, explaining that many WLP scholars haven’t had an example to look up to of how women support each other, applaud each other’s accomplishments and come running to aid when there is a need. 

“Our group does that very, very well,” she said. “It’s just the nature of the group, and it’s wonderful for our scholars to be exposed to that while they’re going through their academic career.”

Leveraging the energy generated by the #BullsUnited in Action initiative in June and July, more than $26,000 has already been raised for the InvestInHER fund, and almost $9,000 in emergency grants have been awarded by the committee. 

WLP is currently able to meet the needs of applicants. But as more students learn help is available — and the longer the pandemic persists — they foresee the need is going to increase, which is why InvestInHER will be an ongoing campaign.

Though the pandemic was the catalyst for the creation of this fund, Fernandez-Fox said InvestInHER will continue to provide support to WLP scholars in need long after COVID-19 is a memory. 

“We know that that these emergencies are going to continue,” said Fernandez Fox. “Hopefully not to the degree at which they're occurring right now, but with this emergency funding in place students will have someplace to go to for help.”

119,411,948

FY 2019-20 Total Commitment

532,155,863

Endowment Assets Through FY20

9,837,240

Scholarship $ Raised FY20