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Helping Hands

Buffett foundation and university team up to keep student on the road to success

Story Series
News Feature

Jillian Bzdula, '21 inspiring story in new book.

Jillian Bzdula, ’21, recently made a visit to Bridgewater State University President Frederick W. Clark Jr.’s office to drop of a gift. It was a special book with a personal inscription inside the front cover.

“To Fred Clark, Thank you all your help! You are the sweetest and I feel blessed to know you. Go Bears!”

The book, Letters to Doris: One Woman’s Quest to Help Those With Nowhere Else to Turn, features stories of people who have overcome hardships with the help of Doris and Warren Buffett’s Letters Foundation.

Through the foundation one-time grants are given to struggling individuals to help stabilize their lives.

Jillian’s story, “Just in My Nature,” is one of the many inspiring narratives included in the book, which was published in December.

Three years ago things were looking dire for Jillian. She had just transferred to BSU from Bristol Community College when it became obvious the family van, also known as “Nelly,” was falling apart.

Vehicles breaking down is stressful for anyone, but in this case it was devastating.

Jillian has spinal muscular atrophy type 3, a form of muscular dystrophy. Because of her condition, she is unable to walk on her own and requires a wheelchair.

Most cars can’t accommodate a wheelchair, instead Jillian needs a van to travel. No van means no way to get to school.

A friend suggested Jillian reach out to President Clark for advice. 

“I was very nervous meeting him,” she said.

Her nerves were quickly put to rest upon their introduction and when Nelly traveled her last mile, Clark stepped in to help. 

When a family friend read an article in the Boston Globe about the Letters Foundation. She encouraged Jillian to apply for one of the grants. Part of the application process requires letters of support.

It was Clark who wrote a letter on her behalf.

“Having his support, it makes me feel like I am special. I think it’s awesome he’s willing to go above and beyond to help a student succeed in their academic career,” she said.

The Letters Foundation accepted her application and provided $25,000 to purchase a new van.

Clark stepped up again, helping Jillian negotiate a deal with Bridgewater’s Automotive Innovations to purchase a 2014 Dodge Caravan, a.k.a. “Goldie.”

“You can’t succeed as a student if you can’t get here,” Clark said.

Jillian is forever grateful for the support. 

“Goldie is great, we’re keeping her up to par… I no longer wake up every morning for class wondering if the van will start. I know I’ll get there safely,” Jillian said. “I’ve been overwhelmed by this entire experience and don’t really have the words other than I get a warm feeling in my heart knowing there are people out there that truly care and are willing to help.” (Story by Heather Harris Michonski, Photos by Carl Hollant, University News & Video)

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United States