Everyone can identify with a life-changing crisis of one kind or another: sudden unemployment, death of a family member or complete loss of property due to natural disaster. These types of emergencies can often put families on hard times, both financially and emotionally. For a University of Mississippi student, such an event could easily lead to a leave of absence or complete disenrollment.
Currently, if a costly emergency impacts an Ole Miss student, there are no resources available to the Office of Student Affairs to assist students with travel, temporary housing or other unexpected expenses. Vice Chancellor Brandi Hephner LaBanc recognized this need soon after assuming her position in 2012 and immediately began working on the necessary steps to establish the Ole Miss Family Fund (OMFF) Endowment with the help of the Parents Leadership Council and others.
"We had incidents in my first semester that alerted me to this need," said LaBanc. "Most universities, including ours, used to have a budget line that allowed for this type of discretionary spending, but over time they disappeared. Establishing an endowment to address the issue creates a reliable fund that will support our students indefinitely. To name it the Ole Miss Family Fund made perfect sense; Ole Miss is known for being a family. However, there are times now when our support can only go so far. This endowment would allow us to extend our abilities one step further and help us tangibly apply our mission and the true Ole Miss family spirit."
The newly-created OMFF will help cover costs when the Office of Student Affairs identifies a student in need. The emergency fund could be used to purchase textbooks, help with rent or assist with other costs to enable a student to stay in school. The Office of Student Affairs will alert professors and staff that this resource is available once the endowment is fully established.
"Our professors or staff members often become aware of a student who is suffering a personal crisis and want to know the appropriate way to reach out and help," said LaBanc. "Right now we do our best, but having the Family Fund to draw upon would be a game-changer."
Not surprisingly, several large gifts came in during the holidays that have the OMFF well on its way to endowment level. The first came from the Madison Charitable Foundation, an organization whose support of UM and the UM Medical Center's Batson Hospital for Children always fits uniquely within the spirit of "family support."
“The Madison Charitable Foundation has a tremendous passion for providing scholarship support for Ole Miss students that might not otherwise have been able to afford to attend college,” said Sarah Hollis, associate director for University Development. “Their gift to the OMFF will ensure funding is available to help students stay in school while they weather whatever storm they may be facing.”
Additionally, the UM Foundation chose to designate funds to the OMFF as its annual holiday gift.
"Each year the foundation designates funds toward one of the university's goals as a holiday gift in honor of our board of directors and their dedication to our efforts," said Wendell Weakley, president and CEO of the UM Foundation. "We could not have picked a more appropriate fund this year, as the Ole Miss Family Fund speaks directly to UM's mission of accessibility to higher education and nurturing support from enrollment to graduation. We are pleased that Dr. Hephner LaBanc identified this need for Ole Miss and look forward to helping the Family Fund grow."
Upon receiving the foundation's holiday card, Louis and Lucia Brandt of Houston, Texas, wanted more information on the OMFF. Hearing the mission of the Family Fund, their gift immediately followed.
"When I realized that this fund existed, I was very touched and wanted to be a part of the effort," said Louis Brandt. "Providing financial support for students in times of crisis is consistent with the caring culture of Ole Miss. I am blessed to able to share my good fortune, which in large part is a result of having graduated from Ole Miss and the friendships I developed during that time. I hope that my support of the Ole Miss Family Fund will provide others with the same opportunity."
The Parents Leadership Council, an organization established to encourage communication between the university and parents in order to improve the Ole Miss experience for both students and their parents, has also zeroed in on the OMFF as a major fundraising goal.
"We speak often of the support of the 'Ole Miss family' for academics, athletics and especially for our students," said Brett Barefoot, director of development for Parents Leadership. "This fund will offer true reinforcement when a student finds him or herself in a bind. I hope that our Ole Miss parents will see this as an extension of our promise to support our students, and that they will join us as we build this fund."
LaBanc stressed that the OMFF, once successfully at endowment level, will be an invaluable mechanism for the university and will further endear students to Ole Miss and keep them on track.
"The big impact here is that we could change a student's mind about withdrawing from Ole Miss," said LaBanc. "Whether they are faced with a $2,500 or a $200 issue, the student will know that Ole Miss is not just a place they go to class, but truly a community that will support them and help them succeed. We want to help them graduate and get that dream job."
Individuals and organizations interested in supporting the Ole Miss Family Fund Endowment can mail a check with the fund noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655; contact Brett Barefoot, director of development for Parents Leadership at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-915-2711; or visit www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.