A Helping Hand to the Graduation Stage

  • Barbara and Rick Levy (far left) celebrate their daughter's wedding in July, with their family (including their daughters, sons-in law and two granddaughters).

    Barbara and Rick Levy (far left) celebrate their daughter's wedding in July, with their family (including their daughters, sons-in law and two granddaughters). Photo courtesy of the Levy family.

Barbara and Rick Levy’s greatest challenge as students at California State University, Northridge wasn’t academics. It was life.

They struggled to pay for school. They struggled to configure class schedules to accommodate their work schedules. They had no time for extracurricular activities.

But they had each other. And they teamed up to pay for basic needs and tuition, and then to graduate from the school they love.

“It was the right school for us,” said Rick Levy ’74 (Political Science), a former vice president of Access Leasing Corporation, an equipment-leasing and financing company. “It changed our lives.”

For nearly two decades, the couple, now retired and living in Santa Monica, has changed the lives of many Matadors through philanthropic support. Their investments in the CSUN community help ensure students don’t endure the kind of hardships they faced — or worse.

The longtime CSUN benefactors recently pledged three gifts to the university, totaling nearly $2 million for scholarships, internships and basic needs programs aimed at giving students — particularly those whose post-secondary journeys have been derailed or delayed — a means to cross the educational finish line into a life filled with new possibilities.

“Our mission here is, ‘How can we give students better opportunities?’” said Barbara Levy ’74 (English), a former staff accountant at Arthur Young & Co. and a member of the CSUN Foundation Board of Directors. “Our responsibility is to give back.”

Their gifts include an especially impactful gift for CSUN’s new Basic Needs Suite, which will centralize resources for students such as food, clothing and emergency funding within the University Student Union. The Levys were inspired to give by the Matador Match Challenge, an offer by the CSUN Foundation to match eligible gifts — meaning the Levys’ $250,000 gift will result in $500,000 to launch this important project.

Those involved with students most likely to benefit from the Levys’ generosity anticipate the impact will be widespread and long-lasting. Much like the success stemming directly from the couple’s contributions to CSUN over the years.

More than 140 students have received funds from the Levys’ donations since the 2014-15 academic year. Another half dozen are getting support this fall.

Scholarship recipients routinely share that the support is a life-changer. A 2021 recipient wrote to the Levys, saying their assistance “basically saved me from being out in the streets.”

“Our office is grateful for the support of the Levys, not only because of the dollars allocated but also because the Levys understand the needs of our students,” said Alejandra Fregozo, CSUN scholarship operations lead. “Scholarships can play such a crucial role in the academic trajectory of our students, especially for some of our most vulnerable student populations.”

One of the foundational parts of Rick’s career, the couple said, was an internship he landed as a student (organized by Valley State), which gave him invaluable experience. He capitalized on that experience to convert the temporary internship role into a permanent position, he said.

The couple’s recent gifts also include funding to the Jewish Studies Program in the College of Humanities, to support community service-oriented internship opportunities.

“Because of the Levys’ generosity in providing scholarship funds and internship stipends, our students are able to graduate with less debt and with meaningful work experience and personal connections that help them move quickly into their careers,” said Jennifer Thompson, Jewish Studies Program director.

The Basic Needs Suite will help students in programs across the university, bringing together resources and advocates currently located in offices scattered around campus. The concept and development of the Basic Needs Suite stands out in particular to the Levys, who wanted to help ensure students have their basic needs met to succeed in the classroom and in life. The Matador Match Challenge enticed them to accelerate their donation to help make this goal a reality — by doubling their gift’s impact.

The combined funds push the Basic Needs Suite plans closer to groundbreaking. University Student Union and other campus officials are working on a timeline.

Housing and food insecurity rank among two of the biggest non-educational challenges facing Matadors and all those perusing higher education degrees today. To compound matters, 52% of students with such issues reported that they didn’t apply for any support programs because they didn’t know how, according to a national survey by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.

The Basic Needs Suite will be a major presence, where students will be able to pick up food and clothing, and connect with housing coordinators. They will receive holistic support for their various needs and receive training to put them on a path to self-sufficiency.

“The Basic Needs Suite will be transformational for our campus and serve as a model for other campuses, who can see how these approaches benefit students,” said Debra Hammond, USU director. “The Levys have been so generous. Hopefully, other people will see that, and it will inspire them.”

The Levys want their contribution to prevent finances from being an insurmountable hurdle for Matadors.

“One of the things we get very frustrated by is that it can take some of these kids seven or eight years to get through to graduation,” Rick Levy said. “Part of the reason for that is they have to hold down a couple of jobs, and they can’t take all the courses. We directed the school to get money to them so they can get to the finish line.”

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