Letter to the Community | How the ASSU went wrong: A call to sign Kids with Dreams’ petition for funding

March 9, 2023, 8:04 p.m.

To make a long story short, the ASSU denied Kids with Dreams’ annual grant and we need 15% of the undergraduate student body to sign our petition to get it back.

Now to make a short story long:

Kids with Dreams (KWD) is a volunteer student organization (VSO) that hosts community events for local kids and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. In total, KWD hosts over 100 events annually, including weekly dance, basketball and karate classes and an ongoing buddy program where we match a student with a KWD participant and plan events for the pairs to attend together, such as holiday parties, formals and talent shows. We also send student volunteers to events hosted by community organizations with similar missions and host one-off outings for our participants and their families. All of our events are free of charge and inclusive of people with disabilities of all ages. KWD was founded in 1995 and some of our participants and their families have been coming to our events for over a decade.

A huge part of our organization’s mission is to keep the KWD community consistent even as student volunteers matriculate and graduate. We rely on funding from the ASSU to sustain our programming. The ASSU funds service, athletic, arts, academic, professional and other VSOs through their grant system. Most organizations receive an annual grant, which can be accessed and spent at any time as long as the purchase aligns with the ASSU’s funding policies and with the organization’s mission.

After submitting our annual grant application in which we requested the same $5,619 for the 2023-2024 academic year as we were successfully granted for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years, we received this message: “Annual grant applications under $6,600 are not being accepted by Undergraduate Senate at this time. Organizations are entitled up to $6,600 in standard and quick grants throughout the year, and we encourage you to apply for them to fulfill your organizational needs.”

The problem? Standard and quick grants do not fulfill our “organizational needs.”

Our annual grant allows us to budget for events responsibly over the course of the year and to have access to funds immediately when we need them. We cannot rely on these alternative grants.

Our VSO aims to enrich the lives of the individuals we serve in any way possible, which means that we accept any opportunity that is presented to us that aligns with this aim. For example, this year, we were invited to the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships as a group. That organization provided the tickets; however, transportation costs were paid by Kids with Dreams. The opportunity for families to go on an outing where they were ensured appropriate accommodations and surrounded by other supportive, accepting families and student volunteers, was a meaningful one presented to us with little notice. Over 100 KWD members attended that event, and U.S. Figure Skating distributed several skating scholarships to our organization. Having a reliable, known source of funds was required for the execution of this special event.

Similarly, Kids with Dreams was invited to table at the Palo Alto Community Advisory Council’s Resource Fair for families of children with disabilities. The event was a great opportunity to identify new potential participants and grow as an organization. We needed, with almost no notice, a budget for printing materials to distribute at the fair and for transportation for the students presenting off-campus. A known and always-accessible budget was essential in these cases and in many others. Standard and quick grants cannot replace our annual grant, as they cannot be used retroactively and must be requested for specific events. As a result, they are not a source of flexible funding. Assuming that the ASSU accepts a standard or quick grant, which is itself not a guarantee, the process is too slow to be useful — even quick grants require submission at least two weeks in advance of any spending.

Our annual grant was not denied because of its content; it was denied because the ASSU’s funding shortage has led them to specifically defund organizations with relatively small budgets.

We serve over 150 participants and their families and have over 75 active Stanford student volunteers. We do this with a small budget by acting frugally — we host events exclusively at venues that are free of charge, only serve meals at a few of our events each year, and reuse supplies, equipment and decorations year-to-year. If we had requested money to serve lunch at one more event ($500), or if we had rented the Tresidder Union Ballroom ($900) for our annual winter formal (purchases we previously avoided to keep costs low), our budget would have reached the threshold to be considered and potentially approved by the ASSU.

By choosing to adopt this funding policy to deal with their budget issues, the ASSU has effectively disincentivized frugality. Regardless of the total amount of funding requested, each VSO’s annual grant application should be considered (and scrutinized) equally. Defunding all low-budget organizations is not a solution.

The issue goes beyond simply defunding frugal organizations; the ASSU’s policies lack the consistency and transparency necessary for compliance.

Last year, the stated annual grant funding minimum was $6,000, yet we requested and were successfully granted $5,619 without issue. The ASSU asks that “VSO budgets do not increase by more than 7% for undergraduate groups,” meaning we had the ability to request a maximum of $6,012 (107% of last year’s approved budget).

This year, the ASSU increased their annual grant funding minimum to $6,600 and began enforcing a historically unenforced policy. KWD was left in a position where complying with one rule (requesting a maximum 7% increase in funding) broke another (requesting less than their new minimum).

Because the minimum funding requirement has not been enforced in the past, we were surprised that our annual grant was rejected. We reached out to the ASSU for guidance, and they advised us on Feb. 8 to resubmit our annual grant with a revised budget of more than $6,600 (making us noncompliant with their other stated policy). We received no further communication from the ASSU until Feb. 27, when all student leaders received an email informing us that “no further revisions will be accepted to [annual grant] applications at this time,” meaning that another carefully drafted KWD funding request was denied without any actual evaluation by the ASSU.

Consistent and transparent stewardship of ASSU funds would benefit every VSO and, in turn, every student. If the rules were clearer, logical and more consistently enforced, organizations could avoid wasting time drafting budgets that will not be considered and instead focus on creating compliant and responsible budgets.

We wrote this letter to the community for two reasons. One is to call your attention to the ASSU’s unfair decision-making process for dealing with their budget shortfall, conflicting funding policies and lack of transparency. The second is to humbly ask that you sign our petition to get our annual grant on the spring election ballot. We need virtual signatures from at least 15% of undergraduate students to get on the ballot. Signing takes only a few seconds: all you need to do is click on the petition link and log in with your SUNet ID to sign.

There is no community more meaningful to us on campus than this one. We will never forget participants’ excitement each time students return from winter or summer break or when a new participant turned to her mom to exclaim, “happy!” during her first KWD dance class or when a parent told us how proud she was that her teenage son, inspired by his Stanford buddy, tried salad for the first time in his life at our winter formal. KWD makes participants and volunteers alike feel embraced for being exactly who they are. What could be better than that?

The benefit Kids with Dreams provides to our community of participants, families and student volunteers is invaluable — please take a moment to sign our petition.

Tiffany Liu 23 is a senior/coterm from the East Bay double-majoring in Symbolic Systems and English and coterming in Computer Science. Emily Gurwitz ’24 is a junior from McAllen, Texas, majoring in biology. They are the co-presidents of Kids with Dreams.

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