When Tragedy Strikes, the Emergency Relief Fund Provides Help - and Hope
After her mother suffered severe burns in an accident, Rising Scholar Briana Hawkins continues to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.
When Briana Hawkins set out to become a nurse, she had no way of knowing her education would soon become her lifeline, enabling her to care for her mother who suffered severe burns in a tragic household accident.
Hawkins’ world was changed in an instant. Once an everyday college student focused on her studies, she now became her mother’s caregiver. Her mother experienced burns on her face and head, her arms and legs; while Hawkins faced the daunting task of helping her heal. At just 21 years old, Hawkins grappled with the weight of the tragedy and the needs of her younger sister.
Bills began piling up for her single mother, who was unable to work. As a Rising Scholar, Hawkins is the first in her family to pursue a college education. This trailblazing McKinley High School graduate is intent on seizing opportunity and moving her family forward.
Still, her resolve would be put to the test. But thanks to the Emergency Relief Fund, her story is a testament to the power of community support and resilience.
Triumph in tragedy
Today, Hawkins is a junior at Kent State University at Stark. Her days are filled with classes and clinicals, providing her with valuable hands-on experience that sets a KSU nursing education apart.
She’s recovered from the unexpected turn her life took last December. While attempting to blow out a candle, her mother’s hair caught fire, leaving her with full and partial burns so severe she was treated at the Akron Children’s Hospital Burn Unit.
“It was absolutely traumatizing,” Hawkins said. “But just having me there to do the dressing changes really helped her. And when the incident happened, I knew how to hold my emotions together. Being a nursing major really helped me to know what to do — and how to cope.”
Her mother’s injuries necessitated complex wound care and a long road to recovery. Hawkins’ nursing education suddenly transformed from textbooks and exams to real-life caregiving.
During this trying time, Hawkins also took on the role of supporting her sister while juggling a part-time job to help make sure the rent, bills, car insurance and utilities were paid.
Extending a lifeline
The Emergency Relief Fund, a lifeline for many students on campus, is an annual campaign that spans the entire month of November. It’s an effort to raise funds from staff, faculty and the community. Money collected goes directly to students in need, ensuring they can overcome unforeseen obstacles that might otherwise derail their educational journey.
Over the past year, students have sought help from the fund when facing unanticipated medical issues, housing instability and unreliable transportation. Established during the COVID-19 pandemic, the fund provides aid to students in times of genuine emergency. Some Kent State Stark students have battled cancer, survived domestic violence and even a house fire that destroyed all their possessions. Yet another recipient juggled schoolwork while caring for a child born with birth defects.
Hawkins didn’t always plan to study nursing. She explored various science-related fields before discovering her true calling.
The Emergency Relief Fund came to the rescue during this challenging period for Hawkins and her family. It provided financial assistance for crucial expenses so Hawkins could continue her education knowing that her basic needs were secure.
She encourages fellow students to seek help when faced with difficulties, no matter how minor or significant they might seem. Hawkins understands that it can be challenging to ask for assistance, but she stresses the importance of seeking support from university resources. She believes that everyone faces tough times in life; there should be no stigma around seeking help.
“I know sometimes it can be embarrassing, or you don’t want to ask for help. But that’s what the help is there for,” she said. “You shouldn’t feel embarrassed because everyone has a point in their life where they need help, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask.”
Hawkins’ story highlights the incredible impact that the Emergency Relief Fund has on students’ lives, turning their challenges into opportunities for growth and resilience, explained Beth Fuciu, Kent State Stark’s director of philanthropy.
“This fund doesn’t just provide financial assistance,” said Fuciu, “it offers a sense of community, demonstrating that students and staff are more than just individuals on campus — we are a family that supports each other through thick and thin.”
Hawkins’ journey serves as a reminder that life can change in an instant. With the right support, students can navigate unexpected obstacles, achieve their academic dreams and rise from adversity even stronger.
“We are forever grateful for the help,” said Hawkins. She looks forward to graduation in 2025 and the chance to help others, just like her mom, come out on the other side of whatever they are facing — emerging with new strength and, most certainly, hope.
This Giving Tuesday, you can help students, just like Briana, when they need it most. When you give to the Emergency Relief Fund this Giving Tuesday, you give hope.