Helping Heels: New UNC program lets fans help student-athletes struggling financially during pandemic

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- The University of North Carolina announced a new program Wednesday -- the Helping Heels Fund -- where Tar Heels fans can donate money to specifically help student-athletes struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To answer your first question -- yes -- this is OK by the NCAA.

"There's a lot of rules interpretations that the NCAA has to go through that have never been considered before," Senior Associate AD Rick Steinbacher told ABC11, "but our compliance office fully vetted this to make sure we were complying with all those rules."

North Carolina already has a fund in place to help regular students in need, but Steinbacher said Carolina fans have been clamoring to help the athletes who rep the school so publicly.

"This is just for us another example of how generous the Carolina family is. Our fans and our donors, we've had a lot of people reach out to us. They've just said hey, is there a way we can help Carolina student-athletes? That's really special," he said.

Steinbacher doesn't know the scope of the specific need among UNC's 800-plus athletes, but he knows it exists. They can now apply for assistance from this fund to help cover critical needs.

"If they have any medical bills associated with the pandemic or any groceries or if we hear someone who has technology needs for remote classes, those are the kinds of things we'd like to react to right away," Steinbacher said.

In the 24 hours since it was announced, the fund has already raised more than $15,000 from 34 different donors. It's meant to be a grassroots, more micro-financed program.

"They get to say are they an alum or are they a donor or are they a parent," Steinbacher said. It's obviously a very social media and sharing-friendly link. People that want to give can not only give, but they can encourage their friends to do so."

So much of the focus normally is on what the student-athletes can do for the school. During this extraordinary time, UNC is trying to reverse that equation.

Steinbacher smiles thinking about it.

"It's been really inspiring to see the way our coaches have engaged with student-athletes in such a caring, intentional way," he said. "Encouraging our student-athletes to stay strong, to stay disciplined, to deal with the realities of now, but maintain that hope and that optimism that at some point we're all going to get back to what we love so much."
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