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Heart of Social Fund honors those who inspired us

A new fund at UNC School of Social Work will honor faculty and staff and create a resource to help students with unexpected financial crises.

Kim Strom, the Smith P. Theimann Distinguished Professor for Ethics and Professional Practice at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Heart of Social Work Fund with two purposes. Primarily, she wanted to recognize former colleagues who have been especially giving of their time in service of others.

“People like Dee Gamble, Rachel Dedmon, Kathleen Rounds, Gary Shaffer and Vanessa Hodges always had open doors and responded to the needs of others with meals, hospital visits and other acts of compassion. They made the School a welcoming and caring community, often at the expense of their own professional recognition,” Strom said.

“People who worked or studied here were changed by their acts of kindnesses,” she added. “I hope the fund inspires School employees and alumni to use this opportunity to recognize others who have been of help to them.”

In the spirit of the caring colleagues, the second purpose of the fund is to provide support to social work students experiencing financial crises. It is a challenge Strom understands firsthand.

“When I was a grad student, my car constantly broke down,” Strom remembered. “I paid for repairs that didn’t help and couldn’t keep up, living in a rural area and trying to keep a part-time job as well as school and field obligations.” Even with family help to buy another used car, the stress was significant. “Research shows that unexpected expenses, food insecurity or losing belongings to fires, disasters or crime can delay or derail students’ educations.”

“People who feel compelled to make a difference [through social work] may not wait until their life conditions are perfect to come back to school,” Strom explained. These graduate students may not have emergency funds in place. Although they may receive financial aid, the funds may not come through in time for textbook purchases or other start-of-semester needs.

Sometimes, a series of events can precipitate a financial crisis. Strom knew one MSW student with small children at home. That student faced one emergency after another, and finally the family’s washing machine broke. “It was the final straw” that could have pushed that student out of school, Strom noted.

Administered by the Student Services team, the Heart of Social Work Fund will attempt to buffer unexpected barriers and contribute to the sense of community and belongingness at the School.

Strom is inviting others with a connection to UNC School of Social Work to honor their own “unsung heroes” with a contribution to the Heart of Social Work Fund.

“I pledged to contribute to the fund annually for ten years so that we have predictable resources. To me, the size of the gift is less important than taking the time to express gratitude for the good deeds of others through an enduring commitment. I don’t see it replacing other ways of giving for scholarships or other tributes, but rather it is a special recognition and a special resource,” she said.

“I want people to think about someone who made a positive difference and to do something in that person’s name.”

If you would like to support students in financial crisis and honor an “unsung hero” with a gift to the Heart of Social Work Fund, please visit this website and choose the “Heart of Social Work Fund” from the pull-down menu: