Inspired by her experiences as an HWS student, Liz Witbeck ’10 recently launched Sealed With a Kiss (SWAK), a care-package delivery service for college students from low-income families. The first and only care package delivery service of its kind, Witbeck sent nearly 100 care packages to HWS students who come from low-income backgrounds during the first week of classes.
“HWS helped me realize that I have what it takes to make powerful and lasting changes in our world, and that I want to spend my life making this world a better place for everybody to live in,” Witbeck says. “When I am asked what my greatest accomplishment in life has been, I say ‘My college education.’ As the first person in my family to go to college, I fully appreciate the worth of a college degree. I want to use SWAK Pack as a way to support others as they get a college education.”
The packages contain notebooks, highlighters, and other school supplies; health care items such as toothpaste, Band-Aids and cough drops; and cookies. As a student, Witbeck remembers that basic necessities like toothpaste and shampoo were a major expense.
“I believe that students should have access to the same basic things,” she says. “When students don’t have to worry about their basic needs, they can focus on their studies, they’ll get better grades and they’ll be more successful.”
As a first-generation college student, she remembers struggling to afford college essentials. The SWAK packages, she says, will not only help provide some of the essentials to students, but will also allow the students to take part in the “fun tradition” of receiving care packages while away at college.
The SWAK pack website (http://swakpack.org) also features a college advice blog and a forum where college students can chat. While the blog is geared toward first-generation students from low-income families, articles like “What Major Should I Choose?,” “Best Snacks for Studying” and “Do-It-Yourself Dorm Decoration Ideas,” Witbeck says the blog is useful for all students.
Hoping to reach even more college students, Witbeck is working to turn SWAK Pack into a non-profit organization that would allow her to seek grants and take tax-deductible donations. With the extra revenue the non-profit status would provide, SWAK would send packages to students at other colleges such as Skidmore College and SUNY Albany near Witbeck’s home. Initially funded by private donations and a crowd-sourcing campaign, SWAK is currently seeking board members to help incorporate it as a non-profit.
Witbeck has always been passionate about community service and played an integral role in several of the Colleges’ service learning and community service programs. Witbeck was an America Reads tutor for three years, and was awarded Tutor of the Year in her senior year. She was also a Big Brothers/Big Sisters match coordinator, volunteered with Geneva Heroes, and helped organize an afterschool dance program at West Street Elementary School.
A religious studies major and education minor, Witbeck received her master’s in education leadership and administration from California Polytechnic State University after graduating from the HWS. In addition to her work with SWAK, she’s currently a reporter for the Saratoga Business Journal and the Glens Falls Business Journal, and also a curriculum developer for several international education companies.
SWAK was recently featured in an article in Times Union: http://m.timesunion.com/local/article/Learning-to-fill-a-need-was-part-of-education-6488644.php#photo-8591873