Sitting in the front seat of a crowded van with her Emerson softball teammates, Alex Magistro was trying to get comfortable. The team was on its way to the final dinner of a preseason spring training trip in Florida. Magistro, who had sustained a concussion earlier in the week, was nauseous and ready to go back to Boston.
Then, her phone rang — a call from her father. Not thinking about it, sitting in the noisy vehicle, Magistro ignored the call.
“It’s something I regret to this day,” Magistro said.
Later that night, the junior learned her father committed suicide. Now, with only two semesters standing between her and graduation, Magistro and her mother Janet said they have virtually no means to pay for her tuition, or to send Magistro to the Los Angeles program this fall, something she said has been a dream of hers since arriving at Emerson.
In her scramble, Magistro started a GoFundMe page — a crowd funding tool that allows users to raise money for personal causes and life events, according to its website in hopes that the generosity of others could fund her trip, she said.
“I was just trying to think of ways that I could raise money for it,” said Magistro of the funds she would need to go to Los Angeles.
Magistro said she had seen other people using GoFundMe on Facebook and decided to give it a try. On a page titled “Send Alex to L.A.,” Magistro set a goal of $6,500, which she said she calculated based on the costs of having a car and buying groceries.
If her minimum is not reached, Magistro said she has a plan B.
“If I don’t raise the money, I will be back here in Boston,” Magistro said. “With the career that I want to have, LA will provide me with experience that I would not be able to get anywhere else, and hopefully — not catapult me — but help me into a career that otherwise would be very, very hard to just simply break into.”
Her mother said it is tough to watch her daughter have to worry about financing her trip.
“I know for her — and it’s a major goal of hers — to go to California, to do the internships, to see the life out there and make connections and network,” said Janet Magistro, who said she encouraged her daughter to reach out for help.
At press time, the page had raised $750.
“The LA program is something you want to do since you found out you got into Emerson,” said Magistro, who described her dream job as writing for Saturday Night Live.
“Something like this is not something you would ever expect to happen to you,” Magistro said. “You hear about it happening to other people, and you’re like, ‘that’s horrible, and that’s terrible, but it’s never going to happen to me.’ ”
Since her father’s passing, Alex said Emerson has assured her she can come back next fall, despite her foggy financial figures. In the meantime, she said the college is working on getting her a bigger grant than the one she currently receives (which she described as very small).
For Janet Magistro, helping her daughter is a priority, she said, while she juggles the other expenses she must shape into her new budget.
“I’m trying to keep our house; I’m trying to keep a roof over our head,” said Janet Magistro, who continuously praised Emerson for how much the school has helped her and her daughter. “My heart is full from the help that everybody is done, they’ve gone above and beyond.”
While Magistro said any money she receives in financial aid could go toward covering some of the costs of participating in the Los Angeles program, there are other living expenses that students who have completed the program said can add up.
The program requires students to have an internship, which, according to Will Ring, said usually requires using a car. The cost of that and groceries, which students have to provide for themselves among other expenses, make it a costly program, he said.
“The biggest one is gas,” said Ring, who participated in the program this past fall. “When I was there, it was near $5 a gallon for gas. The price now is lower, though. You’re going to - and - from your internship.”
While the financial aid office declined to comment on any case involving a specific student, MJ Knoll-Finn, vice president for enrollment management, outlined the protocol for similar scenarios to Magistro’s.
“In many situations, the student is not just dealing with a financial loss, but also has a lot of emotions about trying to manage in this new situation,” Knoll-Finn wrote in an email. “We try to be very sensitive to this and help a student understand how we can help them as quickly as possible.”
Knoll-Finn also wrote that her office needs to be prepared for any scenario that might pop up.
“Most families have very stable financial situations and they don’t change very much year to year,” she wrote. “However, when changes in a student’s financial situation happen, we are here to work with them to determine if there is anything that we can do to assist.”
When Magistro finally did pick up her phone that day in Florida, she said she listened to a voicemail her father had left her, telling her he loved her and was proud of her.
“She’s very strong, and stoic, and she perseveres, but I know she’s hurting on the inside,” Janet Magistro said. “Her father was so excited, and so happy for her, and then he was the one who kind of flushed everything down the toilet in so many words.”