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Philanthropy in the Age of COVID

Nimble, responsive giving becomes a lifesaver in times of uncertainty

Members of Ichabods Moving Forward posing on and around the Ichabod statue bench

(Some Ichabods Moving Forward members from left to right: (back) Sierra Carreno, Sera Todwong, Ethan Nelson; (front) Cheyanne Colwell, Hannah Kirby, Clare Bindley. Photo by Doug Stremel)

From Bell Tower - 2021
By Chris Marshall

Given the outside factors created by COVID-19, it wouldn’t have been a big surprise if Washburn University’s 2021 Day of Giving endured a temporary dip in contributions. Instead, the annual giving day was the most visible example yet of a theme that’s been present on campus since the pandemic began: donors offering a helping hand to fellow Ichabods in need.

February’s Day of Giving was the most successful crowdfunding day in Washburn history, not because of a handful of lucrative contributions, but because a record number of donors gave to causes that are perhaps more important than ever. Traditional philanthropy, such as scholarships and dollars given to educational programming, remain essential in their own rights, but this year the ability to make targeted gifts directly helping students facing emergencies or pandemic-related hardships was critical.

Mark, bba '77, and Sheree Yardley are one example of a couple that contributes to Washburn year-round, providing donations for upgrades to the Washburn University School of Law building, softball field, track and field equipment and more. In 2021, the Yardleys also placed an emphasis on impacting students who might be struggling. 

“I’ll look for things that are going to have the biggest impact,” Yardley said of his and Sheree’s giving priorities. “Since the pandemic hit, there were special funds for helping support students who may have been working on campus, international students not able to move back home when things went remote or just emergency funds for anybody facing hardships or uncertainty related to the pandemic, or at all. It’s nice to be able to step up for those types of things.”

As president and CEO of FHLBank in Topeka, Kansas, Mark Yardley considers himself fortunate, and traces the foundation of his career to his time at Washburn. The couple may be financially secure now, but Yardley remembers what it was like to be a student.

“The cost of education can be overwhelming,” he said. “I’ve been blessed financially, and part of reason for that is because I have a good educational background. I look at it as, if you have the ability to give back, to me, it really is a responsibility.”

The Yardleys are among many donors who keep an eye on programs like Day of Giving to monitor how they can help people at Washburn in real-time. This year, the couple contributed to initiatives like Bods Feeding Bods and the Washburn Tech Care Closet, which provides free food and home good pantries available to students and their families, The Ichabod Opportunity Fund for low-income first-year students and Ichabods Moving Forward, an emergency fund for students facing a sudden financial crisis. 

One student who benefitted from the Yardleys’ generosity is Hannah Kirby, who has served as an IMF council member for the past two years. In August 2021, the senior from Lansing, Kansas, found she needed a new car after her old one was no longer in working condition.  

“I used Ichabods Moving Forward to help with one-month’s rent, utilities and food, and that helped offset the cost of a new car,” she said. “And I needed that new car because I live off campus, but my job, classes and activities are all on campus. Having that assistance was really important to me.”

IMF is made up of a 14-student executive council that reviews applications from peers and votes on the distribution of gifts. The organization brought in 60 donations on Day of Giving, and is just one of many student-specific causes to benefit from the community’s generosity. Other popular initiatives include the food pantries and Project Non Nobis Solum, which provides assistance for students suddenly facing housing insecurity.

These initiatives proved vital in a year in which many students’ situations were in flux as schools and businesses shut down, leading some to suddenly experience uncertain housing, new technology needs and job insecurity. Knowing these safety nets exist is why Kirby has been a long-time advocate for IMF, even before knowing she would one day need the program’s services herself.

“I’m a first-generation college student. Neither of my parents got a college degree, so finances were always a big stressor for me. This is an opportunity to help so students don’t feel the same stress my parents or I felt,” she said. “It’s a good way to ensure my time at Washburn counts toward something. My family made a lot of sacrifices for me to go to college, so it’s important I make that count and give back to other people.”

That sentiment of paying it forward is shared by the Yardleys and countless others, showing that whether it’s fallout from a global pandemic or a car accident, people in the Washburn community can count on receiving help in their time of need.

Kuehne Bell Tower

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