By Jesse Berlin
Junior Puna Neumeier remembers the terror she felt receiving the eviction notice. Living in a Columbia apartment with her mother, she was less than two weeks away from having nowhere to stay.
“We were scared,” Neumeier said. “We felt very much alone.”
Neumeier and her mother moved to Columbia last fall. The pair were looking forward to a fresh start, but lingering, escalating problems took hold. Complications with her mother’s health put her in the hospital for extended periods and made it difficult for her to work. Also, Neumeier witnessed criminal activity in the neighborhood where they lived and didn’t feel safe there.
Then, the eviction notice came.
Rental assistance programs had turned down her requests for help. With few options left, she emailed her professors. One of them referred her to the Dean of Students’ Care Team, an on-campus service that helps students in difficult situations such as mental or physical illness or injury, financial challenges and personal and family emergencies.
Neumeier connected with Care Coordinator Beth Lauchstaedt. Meanwhile, Lauchstaedt was in contact with the associate deans of Neumeier’s majors, journalism and anthropology. The deans worked with the Office of Student Financial Aid and arranged for the School of Journalism and the College of Arts & Science academic units to provide Neumeier with two $4,000 scholarships.
“I was very overwhelmed with that, and I was so grateful,” Neumeier said.
But she still needed somewhere to live. Lauchstaedt told Neumeier that she and the Care Team were working around the clock.
Less than 24 hours from getting evicted, Neumeier remembers her mother saying, “‘Well, I’m going to find us a hotel.’”
That’s when Lauchstaedt called with good news: Neumeier qualified for housing through Residential Life and they had an open apartment that met her needs, if she wanted it.
“Beth says, ‘Come to Residential Life. We’re getting you your keys today,’” Neumeier said. “[My mom] had heard the call, and we just started bawling.”
Now, having settled in, Neumeier says she’s doing significantly better. She feels safer, more secure and knows “I’m being looked after.”
“There’s not a day that I don’t think about how this university saved our lives and our dreams,” Neumeier said. “I don’t know where I would be spiritually, emotionally, financially if I didn’t have such amazing people in the Care Team.”
A first-generation college student, Neumeier is now able to stay on track to earn her bachelor’s degree and perhaps beyond.
“The scholarships have helped me keep on track of my college career,” she said. “I’m going to go for a PhD or a master’s, but I want to go as high as I can go.”
Neumeier encourages others not to be afraid to speak up. She reached out to anyone who would listen, and she got help in a desperate time.
“Yell it from the rooftops,” she said. “It’s okay to not be okay.”