June 13, 2023

As life changed drastically for the entire world, the safety nets that those in need relied upon vanished from communities overnight. Enter the Forsyth Tech Cares Program. Originally conceived of before the Covid-19 pandemic ever began, Forsyth Tech Cares was designed to focus on whole-person care for students with barriers to success.   

In March of 2020, it became apparent to Dr. Janet Spriggs, President of Forsyth Tech, and Dr. Stacy Waters-Bailey, the Executive Director of Student Support Services, that the thoughtful plan they’d spent months developing would have to be accelerated – rapidly. So that’s exactly what they did.

The program takes a highly individualized approach, and has components that can help students with a wide variety of issues that range from financial assistance for basic needs to legal help and free tax preparation. “Our student population faces numerous challenges that are not related to academics, but that present barriers to their success – in the classroom as well as in their daily lives. We want our students to be successful, but realize that we need to care for the whole person and not just what happens in the classroom,” said Dr. Spriggs. This is precisely why the Forsyth Tech Cares program exists.

Forsyth Tech Cares is comprised of an office with staff dedicated to developing programs to help students and then connecting students with those programs. These individuals all have backgrounds in social work, and understand the importance of working one-on-one with students to solve problems creatively. Dr. Waters-Bailey and the Cares Navigators are experts in addressing each student’s unique set of needs, and connecting them with the resources throughout campus and the community that will set them up for success. Additionally, these folks are willing to go above and beyond to help the Forsyth Tech family.  For example, during the pandemic, due to supply-chain issues, a student could not find a very specific kind of formula that her child needs. So, Dr. Waters-Bailey spent hours locating a store that had the formula so that the student could focus on classes and not worry that her child would not have the nutrition they needed. Another example includes a student that cares for another member of their household with medical issues that requires latex gloves. This was yet another thing that was in short supply during the pandemic. Dr. Waters-Bailey found gloves and delivered them to the student’s home.

The simple recognition that it is impossible to focus on schoolwork when your loved ones can’t receive the food or the care they need, or when you can’t find transportation to class, or when you are facing the threat of eviction – Forsyth Tech Cares works to eliminate all of these issues and more.

The needs that the Forsyth Tech Cares Navigators see change according to the season and point of time during a semester, which is why things like the Free Community Farmer’s Market happen on a recurring basis. Through a partnership with H.O.P.E. Winston-Salem, students, faculty and staff are able to pick up fresh produce twice a month. FT Cares also works to address food insecurity through food pantries on campus. Thanks to a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank, two campuses have food pantries which also provide hygiene items, cleaning supplies and basic school supplies, which is a rarity among pantries.

To combat financial instability, the FT Cares Office has established several programs that can provide directly monetary support to supplement rental or mortgage income, or provide assistance with tuition and books. Additionally, and through collaboration with partners at Financial Pathways of the Piedmont and Truliant Credit Union, the office recently began a program focused on increasing financial literacy among women who are the head of their household.

Additional functions of the FT Cares office include assistance with childcare: the office oversees funds from two childcare grants and can assist with locator services; transportation: by helping with car repairs, fuel costs and maintenance, and, through a partnership with the

Forsyth County District Attorney, assisting students with non-serious offenses get their licenses restored; legal assistance: a referral service in collaboration with the Wake Forest University Community Law Clinic offers assistance to students with immigration concerns, family law, credit, collection and landlord/tenant problems, denied benefits and more.

A lot of the programs to assist students are not unique or new (food pantries to address food insecurity, free legal aid, etc.) when it comes to propping up those most at-risk in a community. However, the notion of whole-person care is a somewhat radical one for a community college to adopt, and few – if any – community colleges are taking such an all-encompassing approach to fostering an environment of meeting students where they are.

It is incredibly moving to hear about the impact the programs have had on their lives directly from students, like Desiree Sherril, who shared, ““The Forsyth Tech Cares Office has truly been a great help to me when I needed them most and did not know who else to turn to. During this Covid19 Pandemic, I found myself without a job. I had to turn to a temporary staffing agency to continue employment just so I could continue to make provisions for my household. I am a single parent and don’t really have a support network that I can lean on. This time was a little different. I was stressed and worried about how I was going to keep my power and water on. Unfortunately, I was working for about 20% less of the income that I was used to, and it was not enough to cover just the essential bills. I heard about Forsyth Cares and decided to submit an application for assistance. I was able to get the help I needed from Forsyth Cares that allowed me to pay my power bill. This was such a great relief of stress that I had been carrying around. I would like to say a great big ‘Thank You’ for being there when I needed you the most.”

This no-holds-barred approach to eliminating barriers to students’ success is proving to be immensely effective. After only one full academic year of the FT Cares program, early data shows that this holistic, wrap-around student and family support approach is an incredible success. During the latest review of Forsyth Tech Cares data, students who received assistance from the Forsyth Tech Cares office during the Fall of 2020 and the Spring of 2021 were 5 percent more likely to complete their courses when compared to students who did not receive assistance. Possibly even more exciting is that the current data reflects that there is no significant statistical academic difference between students who received help from the Forsyth Tech Cares office and those who did not when variables that are known to influence performance (accumulated credit hours, starting G.P.A., online course ratio, withdrawal ratio, developmental course ratio, high school G.P.A., estimated financial need, etc.) are controlled. This could mean that the vision of removing non-academic barriers at a larger scale for students and their families to create equitable academic outcomes is a successful model that could be implemented across the state and in many other educational organizations.

“I hope other community colleges adopt this model. It works!” says Dr. Waters-Bailey, who has been integral to the success of FT Cares.

Certainly an important part of the model is to remain nimble and therefore able to respond to student needs. When the program launched at a rapid pace in March 2020, within a week, Forsyth Tech staff developed a webpage with resources, a phone bank to direct students, a form for the website to request help and a tracking mechanism for the influx of requests.

One thing that has enabled the staff at the FT Cares Office to be so quick and responsive is their innovative approach to relationship-building within the community. To date, the Cares Office has partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank, H.O.P.E. Winston-Salem, Truliant Credit Union, Financial Pathways for the Piedmont, the Wake Forest University Community Law Clinic, the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office, Parenting Path and numerous granting organizations, including the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.  

Another critical partnership that was and continues to be vital to the success of the program is that between the College and the Forsyth Tech Foundation. When the pandemic began, Forsyth Tech had already applied for a grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, but would not be notified of awarded funds for another eight weeks. Fortunately, the College’s Foundation immediately stepped up and stepped in to close the funding gap and help provide immediate monetary support in order to assist students and launch Forsyth Tech Cares.  

What does the future hold for Forsyth Tech Cares? Thanks to the success of the program and the proven benefits to students receiving aid, the College plans to continue and expand many of the programs. For example, two additional pantries are slated to open before the end of the year; the College intends to have basic needs pantries on all nine campuses in the future.

Forsyth Tech Cares is also working with partners to address the healthcare needs of students and their families, and plans to open a free clinic in the future.

Reflecting upon all the program has achieved so far, Dr. Spriggs noted, “We believe that it is so important to ‘meet students where they are,’ and have seen this model have an immediate impact. We believe the Forsyth Tech Cares Program helps our College continue to be a catalyst for positive change within the communities we serve. We can’t wait for what the future brings.”

If you are a member of our campus community in need of help, please contact Forsyth Tech Cares by clicking here.

If you’d like to partner with us to support Forsyth Tech Cares, please click here or contact the Forsyth Tech Foundation at 336-734-7618.