Bridge To Finish Benefits Hub Provides Pathway to College Success
Let’s start from the ending: Arouna Taylor-Kamara of White Center graduated from University of Washington Bothell Business School with a 3.45 cumulative GPA, he currently works as an account manager for a printing company and he hopes to enter law school in the fall. His story makes for first-rate LinkedIn profile prose, and if smiles could talk, his ear-to-ear grin would bellow, “Life is good.”
In fact, his endgame offers no clue that Taylor-Kamara’s greatest accomplishment was never giving up–despite losing his father to cancer and his mother to a heart attack within five months as he entered UW Bothell. Despite being financially strapped and succumbing to bipolar episodes that ultimately forced him out of school. Despite ending up homeless and jobless before struggling to convince the college to give him another chance. Despite often feeling there was no one to turn to for support.
One day, Taylor-Kamara ventured into UW Bothell’s Health and Wellness Resource Center, a one-stop resource area for students launched as a partnership between the school and United Way of King County Bridge to Finish program’s Benefits Hubs. Taylor-Kamara told the folks there that he merely wanted money for books, but they soon realized he needed much more.
“They helped me with the exact funding I needed, showed me the food pantry and gave me a $25.00 gift card to get food,” said Taylor-Kamara. They also helped me with budgeting; I had a part-time job, and they enrolled me in a financial literacy workshop. I was also able to open a bank account that provided matching funds up to $500. They helped me reach out for scholarships.”
Coupled with the mental health support he received, Taylor-Kamara was able to refocus on his studies, allowing the talents and gifts that made him one of Microsoft’s first high school apprentices to shine. He is now among hundreds of students at Western Washington-area colleges and universities that have weathered obstacles with the help of the Bridge to Finish program’s Benefits Hubs, which are currently at the following locations:
- Bellevue College
- Cascadia College (Bothell)
- University of Washington Bothell
- Green River College (Auburn)
- Highline College (Des Moines)
- North Seattle College
- Renton Technical College
- Shoreline Community College
- South Seattle College
Some locations even offer peer health education and sexual and relationship violence prevention. All Benefits Hubs are designed to help students from all walks of life gain access to resources they might otherwise be unaware of.
“It’s hard to imagine getting through college without the Benefits Hub. I wouldn’t say I would have been able to do it, but I don’t think I could have done it,” said Taylor-Kamara, who added he initially heard about the Benefits Hub from a college professor but waited for a couple of days before visiting the resource–in part because he doubted that one place could offer so much support and assistance to students.
“The Benefits Hub was like a second home to me,” said Taylor-Kamara. “That was the most support I really felt like I had truly since before my parents [became ill]. When my dad was sick, I had to do all the decision making for him, like when to put him in hospice care. With all the support everyone gave, [including] helping me get back into UW Bothell. With all the support and [mental health services] I received, I finally had serenity after 10 years.
“I understand the business model behind it; it’s a hub for so many different platforms,” Taylor-Kamara added. But people on college campuses know about the places you can go for help like a food pantry, and they know of other places you can go for clothes. But what makes this so powerful is that you have so many different services.”
Taylor-Kamara knows that his success story has such a bright ending because of the resources and support he gained access to along the way. He said he regretted not seeking such services as Benefits Hub sooner, and he strongly encourages college students to seek out the Benefits Hub before their issues become problems.
“Don’t be too shy to ask for help,” said Taylor-Kamara. “There are good people who do want to help, and great programs like [Benefits Hub] that can help.”