Focus on Sooners Helping Sooners: Throwing OU students a lifeline

Spring 2020

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Ashley Irby

Ashley Irby

Sooners Helping Sooners has been a presence on the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus since 2012, when it was established by students to help their peers during emergencies.

Kristen Partridge, associate vice president for student affairs and associate dean of students, helped launch the fund in 2012 with the support of a gift from OU alumnus Kelly Mitchell. She has seen Sooners Helping Sooners make a huge difference for students, such as dozens of women who lacked basic necessities when the Alpha Gamma Delta house burned in 2014.

But she never expected to read more than 1,000 applications from OU students dealing with a global emergency.

“The thing that stands out for me is how many students have been working hard to take care of themselves and this really knocked them off course because they lost their jobs,” said Partridge. As a member of the Sooners Helping Sooners committee, she works closely with Danielle Steely, who facilitates the process and has helped provide grants to hundreds of students.

“It’s amazing how many of our students are completely independent from any outside financial support,” Partridge said. “They’re really on their own, working full-time, going to school full-time and trying to pursue their OU degree. I think many people have the idea that parents and families help pay for college, but that’s not the case for a lot of our students.”

During the COVID-19 crisis, Norman campus students have primarily used Sooners Helping Sooners funds to cover essentials like apartment rent and utilities. However, OU’s residence halls also are hosting international students stranded far from home and domestic students whose situation makes it very difficult to return to their families.

“Sooners Helping Sooners works on a case-by-case basis to determine, ‘What is the best thing we could do for this student?’ she said.

More than 150 students will continue to shelter in place in OU’s residence halls throughout the summer, Partridge added, and the university is working to help provide meal assistance. The OU Food Pantry will be utilized to address food insecurity for off-campus students.

OU junior Ashley Irby was fortunate to live close to her family in Bethel Acres, Okla., but she still found herself in a difficult situation when the pandemic reached Norman. The Honors College student lost two jobs as a genetics lab research assistant and a microbiology lab assistant.

She faced owing $500 in apartment rent and an electric bill just two weeks later. “I was so stressed that I was going to have to try to find a job in the middle of the coronavirus with finals coming up,” Irby said.

She was surprised and excited to learn that her grant application to Sooners Helping Sooners had been approved. “It was a huge relief to know that people are out there, trying to help students like me.”

She isn’t alone. “Students feel like someone has thrown them a lifeline,” said Partridge, who has read dozens of thank-you testimonials from students assisted by Sooners Helping Sooners.

“When we say ‘OU Family,’ that means we must take care of each other. Our incredible donors are doing just that – directly caring for students. Every single penny goes straight into the hands of a student who desperately needs it. This critical support clearly shows who we are as a campus community.

“OU doesn’t leave anyone behind.”