Students spend four or more years in college learning and preparing for life after college. The lesson from COVID-19 that we’ve all learned—students or not—is how quickly life can change. And that an emergency can occur at any time.

For a student with limited financial resources, a cut in job hours or being unable to afford books or the utility bill in an off-campus apartment can constitute an emergency.

Denise and Tim Downey, who both attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, gave a lot of thought to these kinds of challenges for students, and they wanted to help.

In 2019, they created the Denise and Tim Downey Student Emergency Fund to provide limited emergency funding for UTC students facing monetary hardship. The fund exists to alleviate unexpected student expenses, like essential academic needs, last-minute airline tickets and one-time, non-recurring medical costs—expenditures that could force a student to have to forego academic studies.

“Taking Care of Our Flock” is the name given to a just-launched campaign asking alumni and anyone else who may be able to consider helping students dealing with  financial hardship by contributing to the Denise and Tim Downey Emergency Fund. The campaign also is the result of UTC alumni and friends who asked how they could help upon learning that students wouldn’t return to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Find more on the campaign and how to contribute here.

“We don’t want students to have a situation that causes them to drop out of school,” said Tim Downey, founder and chief executive officer of Southern Land Company—a Nashville-based real estate development firm. “That’s what I think is the most dangerous part for students. If something goes wrong, they might end up dropping out. That would be the worst thing that could happen, right?”

His wife concurred, saying, “I feel good about being able to give back to these kids, especially when they’re in dire situations.” Denise Downey received a bachelor’s degree in home economics from UTC in 1981.

In what scenarios does she see the fund being used?

“When they don’t have the money for books, or their car breaks down, or all the other things that can happen that you’re not prepared for—especially when you’re young and you have no money,” she said. “Students work so hard. Tim and I, we’re fortunate that we can pay it back a little bit. If students need help, they have a place to come and get it.”

The fund they’ve established is specifically earmarked to help students with financial hardships that would otherwise interfere with their success at UTC. It provides limited emergency awards to currently enrolled students who experience unexpected or temporary difficulty. The fund supports the campus-wide priority of retaining and graduating students on time and with minimal debt.

Students in financial hardship can apply for emergency fund help here.

“We like to help people in the community, and UTC is a good arm to help us,” Denise Downey said. “This fund is available to all students. If they have an emergency or if they need something and don’t have the means to take care of it, that’s when they need to ask for help.”

The Downeys know what it’s like to have to pay your own way through college.

“Back then, your parents just didn’t write checks to help you out,” recalled Tim Downey, who arrived at UTC in 1977. “We had to pay our rent. We had to pay for our gas. We had to pay for our books and our tuition. If something went wrong, we didn’t have a place to go—unless it was family.

“We did have family that would have helped us if we needed it, but I think we’re helping a lot of people who don’t have family that can just write a check. We had a failsafe, but they don’t. Looking back, $50 could have been an emergency for us way back when.”

Philanthropy is important to the couple, who said they believe in the philosophy of performing one random act of kindness a day.

“Every city we do business in, we try to let a few charities know about what we’re doing,” Tim Downey said. “UTC is our connection to Chattanooga. Denise and I both went there. We were supporting ourselves while we were in school and we know what it’s like to barely get by.”

“It feels good to help out,” Denise Downey said. “UTC was a wonderful experience. It’s a great University and it serves the community so well. We love Chattanooga. It’s a beautiful city, a great place to raise your family and your children.”


Media Relations Contacts: Email UTC Media Relations or call 423-425-5119.
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