Alexia Wilson ’22 credits UCF Cares with saving her life.
“UCF Cares provides wraparound support to our students for a variety of needs, including mental health concerns and food and financial insecurity,” says Ryan Iocco, director for Student Care Services. Iocco suspects that because of the stigma attached to being called “homeless,” the number of self-identified homeless students is much greater than what is in his official report. So, Iocco and his team charge on, providing outreach and education to as many students as they can. They post flyers across campus, blanketing clinics, restrooms and public areas, hoping to reach students who are in despair, or hungry, or just wondering where they’re going to sleep that night.
For Alexia Wilson ’22, seeing a UCF flyer that asked, “Are you couch-surfing?” brought into clarity her dire situation. Wilson was born in Germany and traveled the world with her military parents. When her parents deployed to war zones, she stayed with her grandmother, whose stabilizing effect and great love had a profound impact on her life. She passed away in 2016, and Wilson said she felt lost without her. “It’s hard to remember exactly when my situation changed,” Wilson says. “The lockdown and COVID made everything blend together, but I never felt truly homeless because there are many people who had it worse than I did. I would watch the sunrise at Cape Canaveral before school and then stop in Poinciana to shower at a friend’s house.”
Wilson spent about 15 months on the fringes of homelessness. She considers herself an average, middle-class student who didn’t qualify for a lot of financial aid, and whose academic achievements also precluded her from merit scholarships. For a while, she struggled, but she figured that maybe it was supposed to be that way. “That [UCF] flyer really hit home for me,” Wilson says. She realized that, perhaps, there was help and hope for someone like her.
“It is not uncommon for students to hesitate before reaching out to our office,” Iocco says. “They have many reasons that may prevent them from seeking help, and sometimes it’s just thinking that they are not eligible for our services. Everyone needs a little help from time to time, and we meet our students where they are to ensure they receive all the tools they need.”
A student care coordinator provided resources for Wilson, including medical referrals, food vouchers and places on campus that offered free parking. “These services really blessed me,” Wilson says. “I was able to eat, and I went to the recreational center for yoga classes to help heal my body and mind.”
UCF Cares also gave her a grant to find a new place to live and told her about the career center through which she secured a job as a graphic designer at UCF Downtown. “But it wasn’t really all about money,” Alexia says. “It was about getting validation for the skills I had and for my career. It was about having a group of people that I see who support me every day. I can’t thank UCF Cares enough for their love and support for me and for other students who are going through difficulties.”
-Written by Camille Dolan ’98