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The Pandemic Hampered Their Stride. They’re Rising Back Up.

Last year, Demetria Mack was wrapping up the fall semester of her sophomore year studying computer science at Howard University. She was finding some stability after an unsettling freshman year and was waiting to hear about summer internships.

Ms. Mack was profiled around that time for The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund about her experiences managing college during the pandemic and the assistance she received from Children’s Aid, which used money from The Fund to buy her a laptop and household necessities.

After she was interviewed, she learned she wasn’t chosen for the internship she wanted. But her disappointment was short-lived.

“Google didn’t work out, but Microsoft did,” said Ms. Mack, who took part in a virtual 12-week internship in product management and software development over the summer.

It turned out to be a great experience that she said gave her clarity about her career goals.

“Instead of going specifically into a software engineering role, I want to go into product management,” said Ms. Mack, who was able to travel to Seattle for a week to visit Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond, Wash.

When Howard shut its campus in Washington, D.C., last year and began holding courses remotely, Ms. Mack had to leave the dorm room that she had been excited to move into and stay with her foster mother in Brooklyn. It wasn’t easy for her to focus on her studies while her younger brother and another child also attended school online in the living room.

Ms. Mack, 20, returned to Howard in the fall of 2020, after working two jobs during the summer. She had worried about finding housing ahead of her sophomore year. Children’s Aid, one of the nine organizations supported by The Neediest Cases Fund, helped her find an off-campus residence and has since been paying her part of the nearly $1,100 rent on the four-room apartment she shares with three roommates.

Now studying mathematics as a minor, Ms. Mack relies on an $800 monthly stipend from Children’s Aid for her everyday expenses, and she is paying for her education through scholarships and endowment funds, eliminating the need for loans. Now that the fall semester is over, Ms. Mack is eager to learn whether her overall 3.87 G.P.A., which rose after she earned a 4.0 in the spring, has edged higher.

Ms. Mack has stayed in contact with her summer internship mentors and has been tutoring youths interested in computer science through the employee resource group Blacks at Microsoft.

She is excited to return to Microsoft as a product management intern next summer.

“I feel like things are much more clear now,” Ms. Mack said.

Robert Sanchez, who has faced many dark days filled with health crises, was also profiled in the Neediest Cases Fund campaign last year. Expressing gratitude has been his coping mechanism.

“I’m still struggling,” Mr. Sanchez, 53, said early last month, “but I’m in such a great, beautiful space in my life.”

In January 2020, Mr. Sanchez had a cancerous kidney removed, and as he recovered, the pandemic began, requiring him to isolate vigilantly to protect his health. The pandemic also delayed a kidney transplant, his second such procedure.

Mr. Sanchez soon quit his job working with incarcerated men to preserve his strength for his dialysis treatments. The loss of regular working income has made it extremely difficult for him to pay his $1,132 monthly rent and buy groceries with the $900 a month in Social Security Disability Insurance that he has been receiving.

Critical financial support arrived from Catholic Charities Community Services, which is part of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, another beneficiary of The Neediest Cases Fund. Mr. Sanchez received help with food, transportation and cleaning, as well as rent for his Bronx apartment. He also received federal pandemic unemployment benefits, a program that has since expired.

In September 2021, Mr. Sanchez again had surgery on his left kidney. The next month, he had surgery to remove stones from his bladder as well as a biopsy on his right kidney that revealed his cancer had returned. In early November, he had surgery to remove a lipoma on his shoulder. And he will face surgery again, in February, on the cancerous kidney.

Despite it all, he said early last month that he was feeling well. “I feel like a million dollars, actually,” he said.

Catholic Charities, which has continued to assist Mr. Sanchez, helped him apply for the New York State Emergency Rental Assistance Program. His submission was recently approved for $13,584, which will cover the arrears that have built up over the past 12 months.

At his case worker’s suggestion, Mr. Sanchez, who had served prison time for drug possession, has begun studying the Python computer coding language through Columbia University’s free Justice Through Code program. After his next surgery, he plans to take an assessment test to allow him to further his coding studies in another program.

Carolyn Coleman, an artist living in the South Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, was used to relying on live music gigs and multiple jobs to pay the bills until she found herself unemployed early last year.

“I was really stressed in January 2020 because I was going on so many interviews,” Ms. Coleman said.

She had recently completed a program at the Grace Institute, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income women with job skills. To assist with her commute there and to her internship, Community Service Society, another beneficiary of The Neediest Cases Fund, had bought her a monthly MetroCard.

When Covid-19 put New York in lockdown two months later, she began to consider how she had been spending her time. “It was like, oh, this is life, what do you want to do with it?” Ms. Coleman said. Ms. Coleman, who once studied to become a fashion designer, started making and selling cloth face masks. She continued: “It felt really good to have something to do.”

Ms. Coleman also volunteered to make nonmedical face masks for health care workers. Life became “pretty normal, in a weird way,” said Ms. Coleman, who moved into her longtime boyfriend’s loft in June 2020. They are now engaged.

In fall 2020, she was hired as an independent contractor for a part-time position, working eight to 10 hours a week with the dance nonprofit It’s Showtime NYC. A year in, Ms. Coleman enjoys “doing a little bit of everything” as an interim managing director.

During the height of the pandemic, Ms. Coleman had to delay the double mastectomy she had decided on as a preventive measure against breast cancer. She had the surgery one year later, nearly two weeks after her 54th birthday in March, and was relieved that Medicaid fully covered her medical bills. She giddily recalled being able to play her guitar just three weeks after her operation.

Skilled as a DJ and a musician, with a lifelong love of the arts, Ms. Coleman is aiming to become a full staff member at It’s Showtime NYC.

“Working from home, especially as an artist, has been great,” she said. “I’m doing real work and I’m growing, but I also still have my life. I feel really happy and grateful.”

Donations to The Neediest Cases Fund may be made online or with a check.

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