Despite its annual gala being cancelled, the Highline College Foundation has managed to raise more than $150,000 for students in need.
Josh Gerstman, its executive director, says that students’ need for support during this pandemic is what keeps him and the Foundation going.
“As we work our way out of this crisis we’ve been in, we really want people to see that the Foundation has been part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Gerstman said.
Founded in 1972, the Highline Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that raises and invests funds to support Highline students and the college itself.
“We have a dual role: We provide direct assistance on campus, but in order to do that we have to build relationships in the community and raise the money,” Gerstman said. “We’re trying to do research to help us understand what the needs are.”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the Foundation’s in-person events and operations have had to be cancelled.
That includes its yearly gala at the Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac, the main fundraising event for the Foundation.
And, as has been the case for many, the Foundation has grappled with the shift to virtual work.
“We had to go from in-person meetings to Zoom—that was a culture shift,” Gerstman said. “We’ve basically had to reinvent all of our systems. We’re still trying to figure out the logistics.”
Even while facing these challenges, the Foundation has raised over $150,000 for its COVID-19 Student Support Fund.
That campaign launched in May after the gala was cancelled, and is still running.
Kicked off with large donations from the education support group College Spark Washington and the Rotary Club of Des Moines and Normandy Park, the fund raised $35,000 in its first few weeks.
Six months later, the Foundation has gathered numerous donations from local and national organizations, as well as individuals via their website. Those donations are tax deductible, and can still be made.
“Every dollar you donate will help students pay for food, utilities, books and college fees,” says the website.
Gerstman says those funds are now being put to good use.
“We have a team that’s using that money to help students who need emergency help, and need tuition, books, and things like that,” he said.
In addition to general financial aid, the Foundation is trying to provide for students who are struggling during this crisis.
This is the third year the Foundation has worked with the United Way, a global nonprofit organization with 20 offices in Washington State alone.
“They provide funds through the Foundation that students can apply for in a state of emergency,” he said. “Any student can complete that application.”
That application can be found on Highline’s Support Center webpage, and is open to all students.
Gerstman also mentioned that the Foundation has several more projects in the pipeline.
Those include an upcoming drive-thru event with the campus Community Pantry, and further support for the college’s While In-School Housing (WISH) program.
“We have smaller grants we’ve applied for, for example one to support youth at risk of housing insecurity,” Gerstman said. “That money is specifically to help prevent homelessness and housing insecurity.”
As the community adjusts to this ongoing pandemic, Gerstman expressed his desire for the Foundation to be a source of healing.
“We’re trying to reach out to individuals and organizations in the community,” he said. “We want to get a sense of if there’s more the foundation could be doing to help support people in the community. Our hope is that we were part of the solution.”