With arms outstretched and paddles waving through the air, Community College of Rhode Island alumni and donors gave generously at the college’s second annual Raising Opportunities Benefit June 1 under a tent at the Knight Campus in Warwick.
CCRI raised nearly $180,000 to fund myriad campuswide initiatives, among them an on-campus food pantry, book awards for full- and part-time students, advancements in peer tutoring and academic coaching and important renovations to keep the school’s renowned nursing program on the cutting edge of technology.
Hosted by CCRI President Meghan Hughes, with U.S. Rep. David Cicilline serving as auctioneer, the event featured live music and local cuisine highlighted by a live auction in which students and recent graduates shared their stories, inspiring donors to raise their paddles to pledge money to whichever cause they chose.
After celebrating its highest graduation rate in nearly 20 years at the school’s 53rd commencement in May, the donations will help CCRI meet its goal of producing graduates who will contribute to Rhode Island’s “educated workforce.”
“CCRI will play a significant role in meeting our state’s needs,” Hughes said. “This has been an unparalleled year for our college as we raise expectations for students and ourselves, and we are raising our sights for what is possible for the future.”
Addressing a diverse crowd of corporate sponsors and community leaders – including Gov. Gina Raimondo – students shared stories of personal hardship and adversity while highlighting the role various programs and scholarships, many of which wouldn’t be possible without donations, played in their success.
“I think it’s a great tradition that President Hughes started last year. The school needs something like this where everybody comes together,” said Bill Foulkes, chairman of the Rhode Island Board of Education’s Council on Postsecondary Education. “It brings a lot of excitement, and raising money isn’t bad either.
“We tend to take for granted those institutions that we’re used to seeing around, and it’s good for CCRI to get the word out on all the good work it’s doing. The students did a great job talking about the work CCRI is doing.”
Leo Cepeda, a full-time EMT and nursing student with a 3.9 GPA, emphasized why the school needs donations to help keep the nursing program up to speed with others in the state, especially given the high number of CCRI graduates working in Rhode Island.
Raised in the Dominican Republic, Cepeda enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves following high school, where he worked as a combat medic. He enjoys the fast-paced, high-pressure atmosphere of the medical field.
“CCRI graduates more health care professionals than any other college in Rhode Island,” Cepeda said. “Walk into any hospital or medical office and you’re going to find a CCRI graduate providing your care.”
For others, academic tutoring is a high priority, particularly those forced to juggle both school work and a full- or part-time job.
Coventry native Britny Reinhardt, who will enter her second year at CCRI in the fall, struggled with her Western civilization class this spring. She sought free peer tutoring to get her over the hump. Without free tutoring services, students would have to pay for private tutoring or navigate through tough classes on their own.
“When we have tutors to go to for help, we can stay on track in our classes,” Reinhardt said.
Erika Greenwood, a self-proclaimed “procrastinator” from Cranston who enrolled at CCRI through the school’s Rhode Island Promise Scholarship spoke about the benefits an academic coach could provide to assist with the transition from high school to college. To keep their scholarship, Promise students must maintain a 2.5 GPA.
“I’m not going to lie. When I first enrolled, that kind of scared me,” Greenwood said. But she finished her freshman year with a 3.24 and remained on track to graduate next year and achieve her goal of transferring to Rhode Island College in 2020.
“One-on-one support services are critical to student success,” Greenwood said. “Academic coaches help us master study skills, time management, and they help us create educational goals and objectives. This is a service that will help keep students like me on track to graduate.”
The rising cost of textbooks also remains a concern for current students.
“Ask any student how expensive textbooks are, and they’ll tell you,” said Rhode Island Promise Scholar Joel Coss of Cranston. “Sometimes it can even drive us out of college altogether.”
Coss recently completed his first year at CCRI with a 3.5 GPA and plans to transfer to the University of Rhode Island to pursue public relations. He urged donors to help fund book awards for other full-time students. CCRI offers book awards for part-time students as well.
“We estimate that books cost a full time student $1,000 each semester,” Coss said. “Every thousand dollars we raise means one student won’t have to struggle to find money to keep up with book costs. That means they’re more likely to stay in school.”
The inception of an on-campus food pantry in fall 2019 is an added bonus for students juggling other responsibilities besides work and school. Mileiry De La Cruz, a 2018 graduate from Providence who served as a student ambassador at the Knight Campus, took multiple buses to get to school and worked several jobs to save money to purchase a car.
“Sometimes we have to make tough decisions, like this one many must make every day: ‘Can I afford to eat today?’ That’s a question no student should have to ask,” De La Cruz said.
The food pantry will alleviate the growing issue of student hunger, which, Cicilline noted, is “an investment in everyone’s health.”
The event brought students, faculty, alumni and influential community leaders together for a unique fundraising opportunity that has now become an annual tradition at CCRI.
“I just think it’s important to see other CCRI students get a head start on their careers,” said alumnus Cody Fino, who works as a coordinator for the CCRI’s Division of Workforce Partnerships at the college’s satellite at the Westerly Education Center.
“CCRI did so much for me and now I’m back working for CCRI, so I think it’s just an awesome start for so many people who were told they weren’t good enough or were told they weren’t going to go to a four-year school. I think it’s important for everyone to have a chance.”
Sunil Gregory, a technology analyst at Infosys, one of this year’s new corporate sponsors, added, “I think what CCRI is doing here is really important. The event is awesome.”