How has the Benefits Hub changed since remote operations began at UW Bothell? Alicia Christian, United Way Benefits Hub associate, answers a few questions from Maria Lamarca Anderson, director of communications.
Q. What would you normally be doing now and where?
A. I guess you could say I'm doing what I'd "normally" be doing because I started my role remotely mid-March 2020. Originally designed to be in person, my service year with AmeriCorps has been pivoted to figure out how to serve students in our now digital world.
In the past, my position relied on jumping around campus and hosting live events to teach about the United Way Benefits Hub's resources and services. Now, it's about reaching students where they are: via social media, on their school portals, through staff and faculty, peers and clubs, and so on.
Q. What are you trying to work on today?
A. Today I had the pleasure of going to campus to distribute groceries to students through our Husky Pantry Curbside Pickup program. On Tuesdays from 10:30 to 1:00, students can swing by the Activities & Recreation Center curb to get a very full bag of non-perishable goods. If students RSVP, they can make requests for special items, like toiletries, or tell us their dietary needs, like if they have any allergies. This has been a great short-term solution to help students while the Husky Pantry in the Diversity Center has been closed.
Additionally, I try to connect these students with our Benefits Hub coaches who can link them to long-term solutions, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, rental assistance or utility discounts.
Q. What adjustments have you made to fulfill your work responsibilities?
A. Despite increased need for our services due to the pandemic's economic impact, we have been struggling to reach enough students. To address this, I decided early into my role that I would need to find creative ways to promote our services. I spent my first several months building an online presence for the Health and Wellness Resource Center and Benefits Hub by making our own website, by being active on social media and by finding helpful referral pathways. I'm always on the lookout for additional means to get the word out.
All in all, I have definitely adjusted to lower my expectations and put quality over quantity. Flexibility and adaptability are most important at a time like this, too, because plans are always changing and being set either really quickly or really slowly.
Q. What are you doing to care for yourself or for others?
A. For self-care, I've been enjoying Washington's nature and trails, taking Maybelline — my German Shepherd mix — out and about, and spending copious amounts of time with my family. I have really enjoyed living with my toddler cousin this past year, because he's a great reminder of what's really important in life. My family is also incredibly supportive, and I am very blessed to have their unconditional love. When I'm not spending time with them, I'm playing Animal Crossing New Horizons or binging a show on Netflix.
Q. Do you have a change of perspective to share?
A. My experience in working at the Benefits Hub in a service role has been a humbling one. I came into this with a desire to help students generally, but I did not anticipate the global changes of COVID-19 on our daily lives. I am extremely empathetic to the plight of our students. Attending college is stressful enough, but trying to navigate learning, finances, social norms, grief and anxieties exacerbated by the pandemic along with the usual stressors is new territory. Even still, I know our students are tenacious and resilient, and I am so proud of them for trying!
Q. What other thoughts do you want to share?
A. I want students to know they don't have to figure everything out on their own. Ree Robson and Faye Farrales, our Benefits Hub coaches, are working hard every day to connect students to financial resources, campus and community referrals, and financial education. They've been able to help students who are in financial emergencies, as well as those who are simply wishing to increase their financial literacy.
Students can meet with Ree or Faye by scheduling a virtual appointment. They can also call or text them at 425.780.5037. I highly recommend making a Benefits Hub appointment, as it is a unique opportunity to meet with well-researched, experienced individuals who can advocate for your needs. For information or questions about the HaWRC, Benefits Hub or Husky Pantry, please email the HaWRC.