Some students stand out more than others at Emory, sweaty athletes taped and iced after a hard practice to frantic freshman lamenting over their first midterms. But in the hustle and bustle of campus life, in the anonymity of the crowd, it is difficult to distinguish a thriving student from a struggling one. For those who have been hit with misfortune and financial hardship, many are turning to the Emory University Student Hardship Fund.

Founded last year by Jordan Stein (’12C) and Stephen Ratner (’12C), the Student Hardship Fund aids students who find themselves facing an unmanageable financial burden due to unfortunate events of an unexpected nature. The fund provides grants that ease the cost of living for these Emory students.

“There’s no way to know every student’s financial situation just by looking at them when they’re walking around on campus,” College junior and current chairman Jason Stern said. “You would have no idea how many students at Emory are struggling.”

Sudden deaths in the family, fires or floods at home, uninsured medical bills, these are the types of hardships many members of the Emory community are facing, dealing with these accidents are troublesome enough on their own without bringing finances into the picture. Students are forced to reevaluate their resources, and the bills that follow can make a stressful situation even worse.

Rather than worrying about the quality of the Dobbs University Center (DUC) food, these students worry about affording their next meal, buying a new outfit for an interview or paying their phone bill might weigh on their mind.

Grants given to students, though, do not cover books or tuition, and so the Student Hardship Fund is not a scholarship program. The grants are written on a need-only basis and have nothing to do with merit or grade point average. Eligible students can apply once a year, and there is no expectation for any of the grants to be paid back.

The fund’s motto of “students helping students” was derived from the idea that students on the committee that hand out the grants would be making the ultimate decision to help their fellow students.

Stein, who studied political science and sociology, and Ratner, who majored in political science, developed the program to be comprised of a committee of three students, one faculty member and one staff member who works closely with the Office of Financial Aid. The staff member reviews applications, interviews applicants and awards grants to students in need.

Stern, who is studying political science and economics, was named chairman of the Student Hardship Fund for the 2012-2013 school year after serving on last year’s review committee. As chairman, he now oversees the fund’s entire process and is a non-voting member.

“When I first sat on the committee last year, I had no idea how many people who come to Emory are struggling financially,” Stern said. “You would never assume that just by looking around campus.”

Any students who feel they meet this description are encouraged to apply. The grants are available to all Emory University students, not just those enrolled in the College. Applications can be found in the Office of Financial Aid or online.

Stern insisted that after the application, being involved with the fund becomes a very personal process.

After applications are reviewed, applicants meet with the committee to discuss their financial situation. The list of students on the committee are not disclosed to the public and all come from different walks of life at Emory. Committee members are as diverse as the pool of applicants, some come from the College, some are from the Business or Medical School and so on.

“It’s not just like you’re sending in an application and you get a ‘you’ll hear back soon,'” Stern said. “You’re seeing faces and getting a chance to explain your situation. You get to interact with the people who will ultimately be making the decision.”

The final decision on the amount of the grant can vary, but the maximum any student can receive from the fund is $500 per academic year. This amount can make a huge difference for a student trying to support him or herself financially.

A unique concept of the Student Hardship Fund is that it derives all of its funds from donations. Each dollar it awards is the gift of generous faculty members, alumni, parents and students themselves.

Stern said that the program is constantly fundraising. The more money they raise, the more grants the fund can give.

“Simply put, if we don’t have any money, we can’t help any students,” Stern said.

The fund is completely confidential, and the committee keeps the financial records of its applicants private by working with financial aid officer Delicia Lucky. She attends every committee meeting and follows up with all the students. She also serves as a buffer between the student’s financial records and the committee because the information is confidential.

The confidentiality of the fund, according to Stern, along with its unique “students helping students” perspective make the organization a crucial resource for a number of students that need some extra help supporting themselves.

“It’s a really good way to give back to the Emory community,” Stern said. “We are really helping struggling students get the most of their Emory experience.”

– By Jenna Kingsley

Photography by Jason Lee