Whether you’re earning a degree or you’re the parent of a graduate, anyone knows having access to support and meaningful extracurriculars can make a major difference in the college experience. During UCF Day of Giving 2022, donors recognized this by making nearly 780 gifts to the Student Success and Well Being fund, which funnels resources to areas that facilitate engagement opportunities, community building, and mental and physical wellness.
For environmental studies grad Adri-Anna Harris ’22, the UCF Arboretum was a major outlet that helped her maintain balance and develop skills that benefited her professionally. As a first-year student she started volunteering in the gardens for the Arboretum, which was established to allow Knights to learn about the natural wonders of campus. By her senior year she served as an ambassador for the department, assisting with outreach and making sure programming ran smoothly.
“[When you’re studying, working or] living on such a busy campus, it’s nice to have a space to get a break and just go sit in nature, surrounded by plants and wildlife.”
“[When you’re studying, working or] living on such a busy campus, it’s nice to have a space to get a break and just go sit in nature, surrounded by plants and wildlife,” Harris says. “Volunteering or working at the Arboretum also gives you a chance to learn valuable skills.”
Part of those skills include developing a commitment to service, working as a team and giving back to your peers. One of the major ways the Arboretum emphasizes this is by growing produce for another campus unit dedicated to supporting students, the Knights Helping Knights Pantry.
Launched in 2009, Knights Pantry provides five free food items a day to students in need, as well as toiletries, clothing and other necessities. With the flagship location on the main campus, as well as pantries at other UCF campuses, Knights Pantry has served thousands of students over the year.
“We never want food to be the reason why a student can’t finish their degree.”
“Students who come to UCF are intelligent, capable and hardworking, and sometimes they just need a little bit of help,” says Jeannie Kiriwas ’05 ’07MA, associate director of Knights Pantry, who has worked there since 2015. “Eating a variety of wholesome foods can help students get enough nutrients to maintain focus — that could be the difference between students getting a C or an A in organic chemistry. We never want food to be the reason why a student can’t finish their degree.”
While Knights Pantry accepts donations year-round, Day of Giving funds — which amounted to more than $13,000 this year — help supply specialty items, such as allergy-friendly products, vegan and vegetarian foods, and meats.
“[Day of Giving gifts] are incredibly meaningful to us,” says Kiriwas. “Donations for the pantry have stayed very strong since it’s opening, but need has increased quite a bit. And so those financial contributions help us supplement what we don’t get enough of.”
The Arboretum and Knights Pantry are two areas that are also supported by another UCF Day of Giving cause — the Parent and Family Fund, which aids initiatives that foster community and well-being and received more than $8,000 this year. These include Wellness and Health Promotion Services’ annual Gather Luncheon, which provides a free three-course meal to hundreds of students, and FreshU cooking courses and mobile kitchen, which offer education on nutrition through demonstrations.
“The university provides so much, but we try to think of some of the little extras that may just make the difference … just that touch the parents can bring.”
“The university provides so much, but we try to think of some of the little extras that may just make the difference in either retention or just the experience of fellowship with other students, just that touch the parents can bring,” says Michelle Engle ’88, chair of the Parent and Family Philanthropy Council and a mother of a recent UCF alumna. “We want to make sure the UCF experience is the best it can be for all Knights.”