A UNLV scholarship gives students a chance they would’ve never gotten

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As student homelesness rises to roughly 14% according to a survey from The Hope Center, UNLV faces the same issues as other universities, how they can help their affected students. UNLV’s HOPE Scholar Program helps aid these students.

Established in 2016, the UNLV HOPE Scholars Program partners with the Clark County School District Title I HOPE Program, the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth (NPHY) and the UNLV Division of Student Affairs. In 2018, the UNLV HOPE Scholars Program moved to the Office of Service Learning and Leadership (SLL) and a full-time staff member was hired in addition to two other staff members. The office has dedicated time in their position to support the program.

“My background is not in higher education,  but I was able to start working in a higher education environment,” said Anabel Chavva, program coordinator for Scholar Development.

 “I was working in Chicago for TRIO, a federally funded organization. That got me interested more in how to help these students that didn’t have a place to live. More specifically, I didn’t have a family to rely on.”

Prior to Chavva’s arrival, a high-level UNLV administrator along with a UNLV graduate assistant worked the program. 

“I saw UNLV had a HOPE Scholars position. That was the first time they had it,” Chavva said. “My position is the first dedicated staff to the program even though it started in 2016. When I came in I was really able to help continue to build the program.”

Chavva, a first-generation college student who identifies as Latinx, believes it is important to help as many students from disadvantaged populations as possible.

“The numbers aren’t there, we continue to see that higher education is for students with privileged backgrounds,” Chavva said. “And so how do we get more of these disadvantaged students into post-secondary education?” 

For students coming from disadvantaged populations, college seems out of reach. The HOPE Scholarship provides opportunities for those students. 

“This scholarship really opens the door to many of our scholars. Many of them tell me they didn’t know where they would have gone after high school if they didn’t have this opportunity,” Chavva said. “College and university seem so out of reach when you think about taking loans. It’s very daunting for students who don’t have those financial resources and a lot of our students don’t have family support either and so having to navigate all of that is a barrier layer on a barrier.” 

The HOPE Scholarship provides more than financial aid. Life skills, checklist, and workshops that range in topics from mental health to how to build credit and open a credit card lend a hand to the robust program. 

“Being in the HOPE Scholarship, not only do they have a place to live and not have to worry about where they are going to sleep at night,” Chavva said. “They are able to get support again, that wrap-around service. They have someone who they can go to when they have different issues and then we can help troubleshoot that.” 

 Katherine Marcal, an UNLV assistant professor and researcher, spends the majority of her time researching populations experiencing housing insecurity. Also spoke about the stigma of homelessness. 

“It can happen to more people than you would think,” Marcal said. “Homelessness is complicated, never underestimate being kind to others.”

 For students experiencing food insecurity, housing insecurity, or going through a rough time, HOPE resources are available. 

“The food pantry is one of the main sources for students experiencing food insecurity,” Chavva said. “We also have Take What You Need pop-ups that are done twice a semester. We get different donations from on and off-campus partners. Clothes, different hygiene products,  household goods, things that we know students might need, and students can come and take what they need and go home.”

In addition to the stigma homelessness brings, housing insecurity affects students greatly. Many students experiencing homelessness have added responsibilities, taking away from the college experience. 

“Students are having to deal with constantly thinking about where they are going to sleep, what they are going to eat,” Chavva said. “It’s very hard to focus on classes and focus on getting through assignments when you’re just trying to survive. So housing insecurity is difficult for anyone, especially students. Housing insecurity and food insecurity are just other difficulties students don’t need.” 

Throughout her four years working with HOPE Scholars, Chavva has witnessed the progress each student has made. 

“It’s been very helpful in their growth. When I started four years ago  I had four freshmen entering the program,” Chavva said. “Getting to see them now as seniors, it is incredible to see their progression, and how much confidence they have gained in themselves. I think there is such a stigma for those labeled homeless or expiring homelessness. The Hope Scholarship helps redefine homelessness. It is just what they have experienced. The label does not define them.”

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