CUNY launches new student service

New pilot program CUNY Cares begins at Lehman, other colleges


CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez met with school and elected officials at Lehman College on Monday to announce the launch of CUNY Cares, a three-year pilot program designed to make it easier for students to access resources and essential services.

“There are all kinds of resources available to individuals that have issues around food insecurity, housing insecurity, health-related [issues], mental health-related [issues], and CUNY Cares is going to be that bridge that connects our students to all of those services,” Rodríguez said.

“We also know that about 40 percent of our students will qualify in some way or another for many of those programs. But the sad reality is that only 40 percent of the ones that qualify are taking advantage of that so we’re leaving vital resources on the table.”

CUNY Cares, (Comprehensive access to resources and essential services), is the university system’s strategy at making sure an estimated $25 million in benefits available to students are not going unspent. The program is beginning at Lehman College, Hostos Community College and Bronx Community College.

In a survey administered by the office of assessment in spring 2022:

• Twenty-four percent of students at Lehman College reported over the past year being unable to pay or have underpaid their rent

• Twenty-three percent reported that they had been hungry but didn’t eat anything due to not being able to afford it

• More than 50 percent reported feeling depressed or hopeless at least several days within the last two weeks. Statistics like this were what led to the creation of CUNY Cares.

“Starting here in the Bronx demonstrates a commitment to addressing disparity and fostering positive changes in our community that historically face neglect and underinvestment,” said city Councilman Kevin Riley. “It sends a powerful message of solidarity and dedication to the Bronx for (the three schools). With the narrative of the Bronx being the first in everything bad and last in everything good I am excited with the empowerment this project brings for the Bronx.”

Representing the three schools at the launch was Lehman College interim provost and senior vice president Jorge Silva-Puras, BCC Interim President Milton Santiago and HCC President Daisy Cocco De Filippis.

“If you’re hungry, are you going to be really paying attention to that lecture on calculus?” Silva-Puras asked. “No, right? So as we make a great job communicating but also ask, I think what CUNY Cares brings is the capacity to scale.”

Silva-Puras explained how Lehman College has a variety of programs dedicated to helping students. A week prior the school launched a new initiative, the Basic Needs Center, which offered food for Thanksgiving.

Deputy Mayor for Strategic Initiatives Ana Almanzar shared her experiences coming to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic with not being able to speak English and having little resources at HCC.

“I remember sharing one McDonald’s meal right at the corner of 115th in Grand Concourse with five of my friends,” Almanzar said. “We ordered chicken grilled sandwich because it was the only thing we could share with the five of us. And I can say we were the very lucky ones.

“Many of my classmates and friends were unable to enroll or finish college after the first semester because they had to work multiple jobs to support themselves and their families. I can only imagine how access to a program like CUNY Cares could have helped benefit me, my classmates, my siblings and many others.”

Arturo Urena, the housing specialist at CUNY Cares and a BCC alumni, explained how he was shaped by the institution and is excited to connect people to resources they need.

“One of my first challenges and barriers as a student who just got into the country in those two years was the same I felt of asking some questions,” Urena said. “Some questions I personally thought I should know but at that time I didn’t realize enough, you don’t have a list of things you can ask.”

The goal of CUNY Cares is to help guide those students to resources they may or may not know to ask for. Hamilton Esteban, the project director of CUNY Cares, explained the focus of the initiative is to meet students’ essential needs by meeting students where they are.

“My experience as working as a mental health counselor and case manager have shown me that even though there are many organizations that target specific populations, unfortunately college students are often overlooked,” Esteban said. “I think it’s a blindspot of human services and social services and I hope that as CUNY Cares we’ll be able to fill up that gap for our students here in the Bronx.”

Silva-Puras referenced CUNY ASAP, a program the institution launched years ago to help students graduate on time, which became successful not only at CUNY but nationwide. If the new CUNY Cares initiative is successful, then the plan is to expand it to all 25 CUNY Colleges, with tweaks from learning what does and doesn’t work, he said.

“If you don’t have those basic needs attended to,” Silva-Puras said to The Press, “if you don’t have food, if you don’t have shelter, if you don’t feel safe, if you don’t feel healthy, how are you going to succeed at an academic career?”

For more information about CUNY Cares, you can go to


Felix Matos-Rodriguez, CUNY Cares, Lehman College, Jorge Silva-Puras