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At Montgomery College News and Information

Supporting Basic Needs Like Food and Shelter, Federal Grant Aims to Break Down Barriers

Recent data show that tens of thousands of Montgomery County residents, families, and households live in poverty, struggling to pay for or access basic necessities—and many of these residents are MC students. The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice’s survey from 2021 revealed that 57 percent of MC students who responded to the survey experienced at least one measure of basic needs insecurity.

Montgomery College SHaW Center handing out basic need items to students.
The SHaW Center has focused on students' needs, including mental health. Stephanie Will, mental health services program manager, frequently holds events for students and shares mental health resources.  

To address these needs, Montgomery College applied for—and won—a Basic Needs for Postsecondary Students Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. One of only six institutions of higher education to receive it, the College’s $973,741 grant fully funds the Social Resource Program (SRP): Nourishing the Mind, Body, and Spirit.

The need is evident—and critical. The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice’s survey measured food insecurity at MC as 36 percent; housing insecurity (affordability, safety, quality, potential loss of housing) measured 48 percent. In addition, 13 percent of MC students surveyed were homeless.

“It’s about breaking down the barriers—and helping students navigate systems that are very complex and burdensome. I see it as a social justice issue,” Haddad said. “That way they [students] can focus on school and on their goals at MC.”

The grant, funded over three years, will expand the SRP provided by Student Health and Wellness Center for Success (SHaW Center). In 2017, the College established the SHaW Center to connect students to resources that support their educational success. To that end, the SRP provides students with holistic case management and coaching facilitated by social resource coaches, who help students identify and use community services addressing basic needs insecurities.

The next steps, according to Sue Haddad, interim associate dean of student affairs, is to hire three staff members who will help connect about 1,500 underserved students to College and community resources for food assistance, health and mental health support, housing, transportation, childcare, dependent care, and technology. “It’s more of a case management approach,” Haddad said. “We want to make sure it’s a seamless process to connect students to the resources.”

Montgomery College Student Life handing out goodie bags to students.
The SHaW Center has also addressed food insecurity by offering grab-and-go meals and partnering with the Capital Area Food Banks to host mobile markets on campuses, among other initiatives.

Haddad added that the SRP includes connecting students with mental health support services. The latest survey indicated 39 percent of students exhibited at least moderate anxiety related to the pandemic.

“It’s about breaking down the barriers—and helping students navigate systems that are very complex and burdensome. I see it as a social justice issue,” Haddad said. “That way they [students] can focus on school and on their goals at MC.”

Dr. Nancy Newton, who serves as grant manager, said MC’s student body has a large number of parents or adult learners. “Five percent of families in Montgomery County live below the poverty level. Then you have 20-plus percent considered working poor,” she said. “These people want to be in school, but can’t because they need to put food on the table and put shoes on their children’s feet. If the SHaW Center at MC can alleviate that, it’s our duty. It’s in our mission: we have to be accountable for our results. It’s not just an education we provide, we serve the whole learner. This opportunity, this funding, allows us to do a little bit more.”

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