In a perfect world, every Montclair State student would arrive at campus with all they could possibly need for success: a strong K-12 education, ample resources for study and activities and – of course – shelter, food and a loving and supportive family. But the unfortunate truth is that some of our students carry with them little more than dreams and determination as they embark on their higher education.
The Red Hawk Fellows program was designed to address the needs of undergraduate scholars from diverse backgrounds who are identified as emancipated foster students, unaccompanied homeless students, and students from households where no immediate parental or extended family guidance is accessible. And with the support of donors including Montclair’s West of Hudson Real Estate, Montclair State is providing a critical safety net for the 150 students who are part of the program.
A crucial element of the program is access to all-year housing to ensure that students have safe shelter. Additional supports include 1:1 mentoring, personal development coaching and referrals to University resources ranging from career services to academic support. Life skills workshops cover topics including budgeting, healthy relationships, and how to apply to graduate school. Social activities such as field trips and “family” meals and celebrations help Fellows build healthy, long-term relationships.
“Housing security is such an important basic need,” Yolanda Alvarez, Associate Dean of Students, points out. “For the four years they are at Montclair State, Red Hawk Fellows don’t have to worry about where they will live. In addition, year-round participation in residence life provides critical support for students who have no parental or immediate family guidance. Red Hawk Fellows have a platform for supporting each other. They connect, engage, and experience independence in a positive way.”
For the owners of West of Hudson Real Estate – Irina Grobman, Susan Horowitz, Leslie Kunkin, Robin Seidon, and Maria Vecchione – supporting Red Hawk Fellows is a perfect fit in so many ways. Personal history plays a part, as does their shared mission to match every family that comes to them with the perfect home.
First, the history. “Years ago a colleague, Steve Matthews, asked me to help raise funds for Montclair State students who were emancipated from the foster care system,” says Leslie Kunkin, Partner and Sales Associate. “Steve was well known in the community. When he passed away in 2018, those of us who had just formed West of Hudson Real Estate wanted to do something special to honor him. We started out collecting gift cards at the holidays and supporting textbook drives, but in the past year we wanted to do something bigger.”
Robin Seidon, Partner and Broker Associate at the firm, also recalls their initial interest in Red Hawk Fellows. “We saw such a need,” she says. “These students don’t have anyone to rely on. They are at risk of falling through the cracks. They are trying, and it is important to us to do what we can so that they can focus on applying themselves to their schoolwork rather than on working to provide for their most basic needs.”
Partner and Sales Associate Susan Horowitz connects her passion for the Red Hawk Fellows program to a magazine article that crossed her path years ago. “There was a piece in People magazine about a student in Michigan who lost his parents,” she recalls. “He placed a newspaper ad looking for someone to adopt him so he could stay in school.”
She was deeply affected by the story, and when she learned about Montclair State’s efforts to help young adults who have no family support, she saw an opportunity to do something meaningful. “This is a population that a lot of people don’t even realize exists.”
“I read that article as well,” says Irina Grobman, Partner and Sales Associate. “You know, we all want to feel like we are in charge of our destiny, but no one can succeed without some kind of support system. For most of us, that support system is our family.”
West of Hudson Real Estate’s “people first” philosophy counters what its executives see as a corporate approach to real estate, and further explains their connection to Red Hawk Fellows. “We are in the business of helping people figure out where to plant their roots, where to raise their families,” Horowitz says. “Because we feel that so deeply, we want to do what we can to help young people who don’t have that basic joy and foundation.”
“I have a lot of friends with children who are young adults,” Grobman adds. “It is frightening to imagine them trying to support themselves financially and academically, while struggling to provide for basics like shelter and food.”
Horowitz agrees. “I defy anyone – especially if you have high-school or college-age children of your own – to think about what it would be like for them to be alone in the world,” she says. “How could we not do something to help?”
Alvarez is grateful for the West of Hudson Real Estate team’s appreciation of the challenges faced by Red Hawk Fellows. “It is a wonderful thing to be able to let the students know that they are not alone, that others in the community care for them,” she says.
“The future of these young adults will depend a lot on what happens to them today,” Kunkin says. “The Red Hawk Fellows program catches them at a crossroads and offers a long-term fix. We can help them become empowered adults.”