December 11, 2017

For Century College’s Resource and Support Center, every season is the season of giving.

The center, led by Counselor Michele Jersak, was established in 2016 to provide students in financial need, and their children, a helping hand.

By partnering with community organizations such as Christian Cupboard and Woody’s Clothes Closet, they provide students with free food and discounted clothing. Students also have access to services including assistance with financial management, housing, mental health resources, healthcare enrollment, and applying for scholarships.

It should come as no surprise that, during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Resource and Support Center steps up.

This year marks that second year that the center has spearheaded the Giving Tree, an opportunity for college employees and the external community to donate gifts to children of low-income students.

To participate in the Giving Tree, student parents write their child’s age, gender, and desired gift on a card (a “leaf”), which is taped on a tree drawn on a whiteboard in the center. People may then pick up a leaf and fulfill the child’s gift request.

“Student parents are very appreciative,” said Jersak. “Many of them are pressed for time and money. They are grateful that the Century College community is so eager to bring their children joy during the holidays.”

Parent Services Lives On

The Giving Tree has had perfect participation since it was adopted from the Parent Center, a former grant-funded support system at Century College. Last year, 100 percent of leaves were taken. Jersak expects the same outcome this year, with over half of the 105 total leaves having been picked up as of November 19. The White Bear Universalist Church took on 23 leaves.

The Parent Center was recently dissolved after the five-year grant which funded the program ended. A subsequent transitional grant last year allowed Century College to merge aspects of the Parent Center with existing institutional systems.

The Resource and Support Center, as a primary resource for low-income students, was an obvious choice to incorporate Parent Services.

Through the Resource and Support Center, student parents have access to special services, including lactation rooms, baby-changing facilities, and play areas for children. They have extra access to food rescue, and are eligible to receive free grocery cards once each month.

There is also a fund in place to provide relief for student parents facing a financial emergency, such a broken car or the threat of eviction.

For long-term stability, the Resource and Support Center refers student parents to grants and scholarships established to assist with childcare and provide access to preschool.

Building Community

The Resource and Support Center is more than just a place – it’s a community.

“This has become the space that parents come to,” said Jersak. “We have some students who visit every day. They come in for food, to do homework, or just to see a smiling face.”

A large benefit of the Giving Tree, according to Jersak, is making this community even larger.

“The Giving Tree brings employees together to get involved and make an even bigger difference in the lives of students,” said Jersak. “It makes people feel good about what’s going on here at the college.”

Employees have been enthusiastic participants of the Giving Tree. Though Jersak asks them to keep their donations below 40 dollars, employees occasionally exceed this amount; contributions this year include a guitar, winter jackets, and a sizable Lego set.

Jersak believes that the Giving Tree presents employees, particularly those without children, with a great opportunity to feel they are a part of the giving season. For the Resource and Support Center, though, the program is just one extra branch in a giving season that lasts all year long.

“I believe that in order for students to succeed, they have to feel like they belong,” said Jersak. “I love to be a part of creating a space where students feel safe and supported.”