Photo of three students walking across Case Quad

Trustee’s idea for emergency fund proves perfectly timed

Gaudianis’ gift assists students, inspires additional support

Maria Luisa Bates Domenech had a problem.

On spring break when the university moved to remote learning, she needed to get back to campus to gather essentials for class—and, afterward, home to Utah.

But because of the short notice, the tickets were beyond her budget.

Enter the Case Western Reserve University Student Emergency Fund, which can provide immediate assistance to those who need it.

Bates Domenech—and hundreds of other students—applied; after an accelerated staff review, she was among those to receive almost-instant reimbursement for expenses.

“By alleviating this big financial stress, I was able to just come home, focus on my family, get used to the new schooling [method] and all of that,” Bates Domenech said. “I’m so, so grateful to the university, to the alumni, to the faculty, and to the community members who were able to make it happen.”

But this time last year, the Student Emergency Fund didn’t even exist—at least not in the way it does today.

At a Board of Trustees meeting in February 2019, Trustee Vincent Gaudiani (MED ’73) listened as university administrators discussed graduation rates. When financial emergencies came up as one of the reasons some students leave before earning their degrees, Gaudiani thought back to his own undergraduate experiences.

“My wife and I went to college on scholarships, and we both needed financial help,” he said. “At one point, I really needed about $200, and I would have been in big trouble without it. When I asked the university for help, they gave me the money so I could go on with my education. With that experience in mind, we realized there might be a need for this sort of thing at CWRU.”

Guadiani contacted President Barbara R. Snyder and proposed the idea of a formal Student Emergency Fund. With help from University Relations and Development and Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Stark, the fund officially launched in July 2019 with a $100,000 gift from Gaudiani and his wife, Candace.

“There’s no amount of money that’s trivial if you’re struggling financially,” said Gaudiani, “and we didn’t want students who have talent to have to give up on their education over that.”

Prior to the donation from the Gaudianis, the Division of Student Affairs had a small allocation set aside for students with financial emergencies, but it was not well-advertised.

“The gift from Vince and Candace really laid the foundation for what we have today,” said Stark. “It’s had a huge impact because it has given students the ability to not have their education interrupted by financial emergencies, and it’s given us the ability to provide another source of support.”

During the eight months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fund received about 30 requests from students for financial assistance related to food insecurity, replacing stolen items and medical care or medications.

Once the university announced its transition to remote education, the number skyrocketed. Since March 10, the Student Emergency Fund has received more than 400 requests, and continues to receive them daily. The fund has helped students secure computers and other support needed for remote learning, such as internet upgrades or hotspots. It also has paid for travel home or to campus, storage, food and other necessities.

Gaudiani’s generosity has inspired others. More than 40 individual donors made modest gifts to the fund after an email appeal from President Snyder, while the Stephen J. McHale Family Fund at the Cleveland Foundation contributed $25,000. And when faculty and staff learned they could gift some or all their April parking credit to the fund, more than 550 faculty and staff members responded, adding another $50,000 to its resources.

“We can see that a fund like this has to exist,” Gaudiani said. “Hopefully there will never be an emergency like this [pandemic] again, but there are going to be individual family emergencies as long as there are students at the school, and there has to be a little bit of a buffer in the system to help them.”

Students needing assistance should visit the Student Emergency Fund page for more information and to submit an application. To make a donation, visit the GiveCampus page and help support CWRU students.