Students have better educational outcomes when their basic, non-academic needs of safety, shelter, food, and supplies are met. That’s why the Janet Weiss Education Opportunity Fund was established.
In July 2020 BP employees and others helped create the Fund in recognition of former BP Alaska President Janet Weiss’s commitment to community and her support for the students at Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School. The Fund is just one testament to the philanthropic legacy BP and its Alaska employees left in Anchorage and throughout Alaska.
Challenges forced upon students and families due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been significant, including school facilities closing in March 2020 with a shift to remote learning, and students and parents losing jobs that were supporting their families. Some East High School students experienced additional hardships during this difficult time but, thankfully, the Janet Weiss Education Opportunity Fund was able to help offset some of the related financial impacts, ease some worries, and stabilize students and their families.
Here are a few stories of the support provided to students by the Janet Weiss fund in its first year.
HOME AT LAST
Having the opportunity to finally set up a home after living in homelessness is a challenge wrapped in hope. A family of East HS students was able to secure a rental home with the agreement that the rent would be reduced in exchange for needed repairs and cleaning. The Janet Weiss Education Opportunity Fund supported the family with $750 for groceries, cleaning supplies, and carpet cleaning to begin the project. Additionally, the United Way Education Impact Director worked with Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a national nonprofit, to secure new beds and bedding for the family’s five children and provided the family with contact information to assess their eligibility for additional support through CARES Act and local support funds such as Anchorage Cares and, later, AK Can Do. The family expressed their appreciation for the support.
An East High School student’s family home was heavily damaged by fire last fall, displacing the family and destroying clothing and many belongings. The disaster came at an especially difficult time: mom was in the middle of dealing with significant health problems. The family was consumed with worry and didn’t know how they would be able to meet their landlord’s insurance deductible so the apartment could be repaired. The Janet Weiss Education Opportunity Fund provided $2,000 to help, and a local GoFundMe campaign initiated by school staff raised nearly $3,000 in additional support. United Way also shared information about additional resources available for support. The family is very grateful.
PERSONAL LOSS AND GROWING A FAMILY
When a student’s father passed away following a long illness this winter, the children had no place to go. Their mother had long been absent and was challenged with addiction. Happily, an older sibling stepped in to help and began the process of adopting their two younger siblings. Expanding the family from three to five children was a big undertaking, but the eldest sibling was not swayed by the challenge ahead. They would make it work. Upon confirming that the family was already connected to rental assistance through the COVID-19 CARES Act Relief Fund, the Janet Weiss Education Opportunity Fund supported the family with an additional $1,000 to help them with their transition.