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Collectively celebrating the Class of 2020

On Saturday, May 2020 graduates and their loved ones gathered for virtual Mountaineer Graduation Day. Earlier in April, more than 200 employees and friends of the Eberly College donated to The Rack, to both honor the Class of 2020 and address food insecurity. What links these two events? The power of collective action and resilience despite physical distance.

One of this weekend’s graduates is Heather Carr, who is a member of the West Virginia National Guard. She completed her master’s in social work despite being called to active duty in mid-March for COVID-19 relief efforts, including delivering PPE supplies and assisting food banks. Read more about Carr in WVUToday.

Carr was one of 23 members of the School of Social Work’s Rural Integrated Behavioral Health Training program graduating this month. RIBHT professors Carrie Rishel and Helen Hartnett donated in honor of each graduate to the Eberly “20for20” campaign benefiting WVU’s student food pantry. Rishel, director of the RIBHT program, said, “Resilience is what we as social workers try to promote, and they demonstrated that themselves.”

The RIBHT program, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, prepares social work students for behavioral health practice in West Virginia and the surrounding region. The students’ culminating activity is usually presenting at a state conference, which was canceled this year due to COVID-19.

Hartnett said, “When I saw this, I thought what a great tribute to this class that didn’t get to have their culminating experiences, to donate on their behalf to another student-funded program. It’s a social work way to give back.”

Carr said, “WVU has provided me with the absolute best years of my life, and I am excited to see how my education will help facilitate change for West Virginia residents who suffer from various mental illnesses and other adverse experiences.”

The “20for20” fundraiser was organized by Lupe Davidson, the College’s director and academic coordinator for social justice affairs. She knew she wanted to address food insecurity – a key issue during this pandemic – and thought collective effort could have a greater impact. Davidson said, “We all know this academic year did not end the way that the Class of 2020 (or anyone) expected. My heart breaks for them. Yet, even in this moment we can find meaning in community, collective action and kindness.”

Davidson’s idea clearly resonated, as the campaign netted more than $11,000 for The Rack.

“Your giving is going to go a long way in not only providing students with food, but also helping us give them items they want. It's not often we could accommodate them in that way due to stretching funds,” said Deron Jackson, assistant director for student leadership development. “I am truly speechless. I speak for the entire staff of Student Engagement and Leadership and the Rack when I say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

As Davidson said, the campaign’s impact on student hunger is as meaningful as the collective action that raised the funds.

“I am extremely fortunate to work at a University that values social justice in theory, research, teaching and practice,” Davidson said. “The call to community and the call to support students is strong in the Eberly College.”