Basic Needs program supports student wellness

Maria’s tooth ached but she didn’t have the money to see a dentist. When the pain intensified, she turned to the Basic Needs program, which helped pay the bill with funds from the Shakarian Family LEADS Endowment Fund (Leading, Educating and Developing Students).  

The endowment, established by Beach supporter Louise Shakarian-Ukleja, is a wide-ranging investment that fuels a comprehensive approach to student wellness and empowerment, funding programs and services that include Guardian Scholars, Mental Health and Wellness, Autism Services-LIFE Project and Bob Murphy Access Center. 

The Basic Needs program supports the university’s most at-risk students — students such as Maria and Joe. 

Joe lived in his car, eating one meal a day, and showering at a homeless center. He was unable to find secure employment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Things improved when he received an emergency grant, housing stipend and meals. 

“It is a great relief that this will be an endowment that we can use over time,” said Kenneth Kelly, director of Basic Needs. “We keep developing other things that will help students as we go.” 

Particularly during the pandemic, Beach students experienced additional pressures such as job losses, food insecurity and a lack of housing. Basic Needs saw a significant increase of in requests from students for grants and gift cards, Kelly said. Basic Needs recently began helping students with medical bills. 

The Basic Needs office has been providing nearly $50,000 in emergency grants each year, but significant need remains. 

CSULB’s Basic Needs program is the oldest and most comprehensive one in the CSU system. While some campuses have food pantries and financial assistance programs, CSULB has developed an intervention to provide both meals and housing through interdepartmental collaboration — the first of its kind. 

With support needs rising, Kelly said additional investments in LEADS will enable Basic Needs to further empower students and help them concentrate on their studies. 

One student said her life was changed by the emergency grant she received through LEADS. 

“I know that I would not have had a successful end of semester if I didn’t get the emergency housing your Basic Needs program provided,” she said. “I will never forget this huge help. My own family wasn’t checking in on me like you guys were. Like my own guardian angels!”  

Basic Needs food bank with student assistants

Students volunteer during a LEADS-funded Basic Needs food drive