Alumni lend a hand and a home


Illustration by Genevieve Humphreys

This article is a part of the Trinitonian’s coverage of Trinity University’s response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Click here to read the rest of our coverage.

Class of 2019 alumna Hannah-Elyse Konyecsni has always been interested in photography. She started taking her friends’ graduation photos in December 2018, and though she had fun doing it, she always charged a small fee for her services. That is, until this year.

On Wednesday, March 11, Trinity informed students that the rest of the semester would take place online and required students to vacate their dorms by the following Monday. Realizing the stress this would place on many current students, Trinity alumni rushed to help. They offered places to stay, storage space, help with moving — and graduation photo packages.

“A lot of my friends are current seniors at Trinity. I noticed … them having to go home and kind of picking up their lives and not being able to have that special last semester,” Konyecsni said.

When she wondered how she could help seniors have the semester they deserved, senior pictures immediately came to mind.

“I think that a lot of people wait until their senior year to get pictures taken in their cap and gown. And it’s a really big deal, and you want to post them on Instagram or you want to send announcements to your family,” Konyecsni said.

Konyecsni decided to offer free photo sessions to any Trinity senior who was interested. On March 14, she posted on the Facebook page Overheard at Trinity offering a free one-hour photo shoot, with immediate access to all raw photos, plus 10 edited pictures.

“We can take them wherever you want, you can have as many outfit changes as you want. You can even borrow my cap and gown for the pictures (I’m 5’9 but we can temporarily hem it to fit anyone),” Konyecsni wrote in the post, which now has over 245 likes. “I know this won’t help very much, but I don’t want everyone to miss out on pictures for announcements and family.”

Konyecsni estimates that five to seven students have taken her up on the offer. Unfortunately, the national situation has become more dire since the day Konyecsni made the post, when just 2,664 people in the U.S. were infected with COVID-19. The number of U.S. cases has since surpassed 200,000, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering advising everyone to wear a mask.

Konyecsni stated in a follow-up message that people have mostly forgotten about her offer. She has taken no pictures so far. However, the offer still stands, and Konyecsni looks forward to taking senior photos in the future.

Other alumni have also sought out ways to help. Upon hearing about the switch to remote learning, 2018 alumna Chiara Figari immediately wanted to help. To get in contact with current students, Figari reached out to her connections at Trinity, including her former biology professors and senior Briahn Hawkins.

“If somebody needed temporary or semi-temporary housing and they were willing to share an apartment with me and my dog, then they were more than [welcome] to stay over,” Figari said. “I have a little SUV car, so I was willing to help people [transport] stuff over to storage or, if they needed to, temporarily store things in my apartment.”

No one took Figari up on her offer to provide temporary housing, but Figari joined many other members of the Trinity community to help students move out of their dorms at the end of Spring Break. She said it was heartening to see so many people come together in a time of crisis.

“There were a lot of other alums that Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And there were professors, too. That really got to me, seeing professors from all different departments out there, just trying to lend a hand to help stressed out students and families,” Figari said. “It was during the break when a lot of out-of-staters and people were on vacation, so it was hard for Trinity students to turn around that quickly and dismantle their whole lives.”

It isn’t just recent graduates who have reached out to lend a hand. According to Ryan Finnelly, senior director for Alumni Relations, many alumni have reached out to ask where help is needed.

“We had a lot of alums very curious at the beginning, as all of this was starting to unfold, [about] how this would impact students [and] how they could help,” Finnelly said.

In addition to many conversational inquiries, Alumni Relations ended up receiving 24 official offers to help students. Of these, 14 came from alumni.

“Those offers were everything from making space available in their home, to coming and helping pack things up, to providing storage, to helping with advising on the transition to technology-driven learning platforms,” Finnelly said. “We also had a few alums that offered specifically airline miles or financial assistance.”

At first, Alumni Relations thought they would connect each alum offering help to a particular student who needed it — particularly in the case of students who needed housing. However, there are certain risks involved with placing students in alumni homes.

“If we place a student in an alumni home, and then that alum ends up … with COVID[-19], then we’ve placed a student in harm’s way,” said director for Alumni Relations, Katie Storey.

Alumni Relations did connect with a few alumni, who already had background checks on file, and offered their homes to students who needed a place to stay. However, students who needed housing did not accept the few options that Alumni Relations provided them. Instead, these students opted to stay with friends or family.

Currently, the most direct and effective way for alumni to help is with a donation to the Raymond Judd Student Emergency Fund, one of two funds the university has set in place to assist students with unforeseen financial challenges due to the campus closure and coronavirus pandemic. According to Finnelly, just under $14,000 has been raised for the fund.

“To date, we’ve had 48 people who have chosen to make a gift there,” Finnelly said. “And that’s really encouraging to us.”

If alumni are not able to make a monetary donation, Storey also suggested posting on LinkedIn about job offerings and using social media to connect with current students.