CHANG-CHAVKIN SCHOLARS ADJUST TO CHANGING TIMES COVID 19 Requires College Freshman to Come Home, Challenging their Sense of Independence

  • Published
  • On April 22, 2020

TELLURIDE, Colo. – (April 22, 2020) – The COVID 19 crises is upending lives around the world, and the Telluride Foundation’s Chang Chavkin Scholars are no exception. These first-generation scholars, who started college as freshman last fall, are now coming home to finish their year as different people than they were nine months ago. They entered college ready for something new. They left to pursue their dreams away from home with a sense of freedom, purpose, and hope. Now, many students are struggling to keep that sense of opportunity and independence alive.

The Chang-Chavkin First Generation Scholars Program at the Telluride Foundation provides guidance, college advising and financial support to low-income first-generation high school students, helping them pursue and complete a college education. Scholars are selected annually as juniors from a pool of applicants from Telluride, Ouray, Ridgway, Norwood, Nucla, and Montrose high schools.  They are provided with advising throughout the college selection process, up to $15,000 per year to pay for college, and on-going guidance and support throughout their time as a university student. Virtual interviews will be conducted on Zoom to select this year’s scholars from an exceptionally strong applicant pool.

According to Valene Baskfield, Chang Chavkin Program Director, out of seven Scholars currently in college, only four went back to the home they left in the fall. Three came up with a new version of home nearly overnight. One student remained on his campus until well into the crisis because he was allowed to stay there since he had no place to go. He was one of only a couple hundred students left on campus. “He finally accepted the fact that he needed to go ‘home’ when he felt like he was ‘going backward,’ said Baskfield, “and flew out-of-state to live with his 98-year-old grandmother.”  Another student went home hoping to find a job after both of his parents became immediately unemployed with no savings. The student told Baskfield, “If I go home and get my old job back maybe I can help.”

Adjusting to change for low-income and first-generation college students has left several of them scrambling for resources, and in some cases a lifeline. One student needed mental health services, and without the campus counseling center she is now accessing services through Telehealth. Another student said he received notice that he needed to go home the same day he was informed that he had lost his job. He confided in Baskfield, “I can’t go home. Not now. It would be too hard to go back to feeling isolated after forming a new kind of family and home with my new friends in college.”

Students are trying to figure out how to adjust without feeling like they have lost what they gained over the past nine months as freshmen. One scholar, who left her quiet rural life to attend college, had a hard time adapting to being away from home in the beginning. She felt out of place, disconnected, and wanted to go home. However, her determination, resilience, and growing confidence eventually enabled her to find her “own people,” to the point where leaving campus due to COVID 19 for her was “like leaving what now feels like my real life.”  Having been back home for several weeks, she said “It’s really hard to figure out how to hold onto the independent person I’ve become while I was away.” Recently, she flew out-of-state to live with her elderly grandparents, as she felt that moving home was “one more mouth to feed.” Her family is already experiencing financial hardship with her dad’s sudden job loss due to COVID 19. “Living with my grandparents gives me a chance to help,” she said, “You know, I am trying to focus on what can be gained from this, rather than what I’ve lost.”

Fortunately, there are mounting resources available to support students and their families. The Chang Chavkin Scholars Program is designed to work with students individually to assess their needs and share resources. The recent US Dept of Education’s $6 billion in direct emergency cash grants to college students may be needed by Scholars moving into the weeks and months ahead. At a local level, Scholars have access to the Good Neighbor Fund and the Ouray County Response Fund to meet their immediate needs while they reestablish themselves as students here at home.

According to Baskfield, “There is not one student I have talked with who doesn’t feel disappointed and scared.” Scholars in the Chang-Chavkin Program have a weekly Zoom call where they share stories with each other about how to advocate for a pass/fail grade, or how to apply for unemployment; but mostly, they support each other, reminding one another that they are strong, connected, resourceful and not alone.

“Most of our scholars have a history of adapting to difficult situations and taking what good they can get from it,” said Baskfield. “Transitions present both a challenge and a learning opportunity.” Chang Chavkin Scholars enter the Program already having learned many life lessons from managing their livelihoods through crisis. Most are well versed in looking for the silver lining, finetuning their mindset so they can be flexible, and learning to depend on others in new ways. “These days most conversations about how they are feeling start with some version of ‘this sucks’ and ends with ‘it will be ok’,” said Baskfield “Sometimes it’s not entirely clear – are they learning from us or are we learning from them.”

For more information on the Chang Chavkin Scholars Program: https://changchavkinscholars.org/.

The Telluride Foundation exists to create a stronger Telluride and regional community through the promotion and support of philanthropy. 2020 marks 20 years of making more possible through the Telluride Foundation’s commitment to enrich the quality of life of the residents, visitors and workforce of the Telluride region. The Telluride Foundation is a nonprofit, apolitical community foundation that makes grants to nonprofits, owns and operates programs that meet emerging and unmet community needs, and makes investments. The Foundation approaches this work through the lens of its core values of inclusion, self-reliance, and innovation. Its work is funded through the generous support of individual donors as well as grants from state and national foundations. The Foundation hopes the community will join it in celebrating its 20th anniversary as it honors the nonprofits, donors, and community members who have all partnered together to achieve a significant positive impact on the region. For more information click on www.telluridefoundation.org.