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State College Local Pays It Forward, Funds Student’s Tuition One Cake At A Time

Penn State prides itself on the community it fosters despite being such a large university. Out-of-staters and locals alike take care of each other, and this unity spreads outside the grounds of campus into the rest of the borough.

Dagmar Wilson, a State College local, has taken this concept to heart. She’s been cooking and baking to help a Penn State student fundraise the cost of their tuition. 

Wilson’s generosity is nothing new. She’s helped numerous community members in the past, including a close family friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer twice. The friend didn’t have disability insurance or a new job, so Wilson took it upon herself to open a private account at a local bank where people could donate anonymously.

Wilson makes homemade doughnuts on Mardi Gras, and every year, she receives more requests. Wilson decided to advertise on social media and ask for donations instead.

“The response was overwhelming,” Wilson said. She said she would begin making the donuts at 4 a.m. and wouldn’t stop until 10 p.m.

She raised $2,000 in a single day, and from there, she expanded the doughnuts to special Easter breads, birthday cakes, and pies. After one year, she’d raised $10,000. 

Wilson hasn’t slowed down yet. Her most recent fundraiser is helping a current student at Penn State, a friend’s son who wasn’t able to register for spring classes because of unexpected family circumstances and incredibly high-interest loans. 

The estimated cost of tuition at Penn State is $18,454 for in-state residents, and $34,858 for non-PA residents, according to tuition rates from the 2018-19 school year. These costs exclude housing, food, and other miscellaneous items.

“It is often discussed how a health crisis can devastate a family and how the cost of a college education is not attainable for many people,” Wilson said. “Those statistics are mostly faceless, yet in my own circle I’ve realized that these very real hardships are quite prevalent.”

Wilson began offering basic meals, cakes, and other sweet treats to her friends on Facebook. Eventually, she shared the fundraiser to the Penn State Parents Facebook page, and the response in just one hour was overwhelming.  

The demand was so high that Wilson needed to create a spreadsheet to record orders and payments. The student’s identity is protected, though their Venmo account is shared privately so that people can pay them directly. 

Wilson has always loved to cook and bake. When her children were young, she worked as a personal chef and helped create a monthly menu with her client. A friend of Wilson’s opened a restaurant, and she helped him update menu options and worked as a short-term sous-chef. 

Wilson mainly offers specialty birthday cakes, cookies, brownies, soups, chilis, entrees delivered fresh, and fresh mixed green salads.

Wilson calculates the cost of ingredients, containers, and her time to price accordingly. From here, she requests a minimum donation. Wilson’s time and some ingredient costs are her own donation. Customers contact her through Facebook Messenger to place orders. 

Wilson prepares the food entirely on her own, forcing her to become more efficient. She also works as a Driver’s Ed teacher in the State College Area School District.

In her downtime, Wilson doesn’t waste time or watch TV. She prepares cookie dough when she wakes up and as soon as she gets home. She checks her spreadsheet over lunch breaks and before bed, sometimes struggling to keep up with such a high demand for orders. 

Wilson said the student she’s helping was initially uncomfortable with the support but has been beyond grateful for the financial and community support. Because of her efforts, the student was able to pay their fall balance and register for spring classes. So far, half of their spring balance is covered as $5,500 of the total $8,000 goal has been raised.

“The community is already there,” said Wilson. “This fundraiser simply reinforces what an amazing, giving community it is.”

Wilson’s devotion to the students of Penn State is wide-ranging. She welcomes anybody who does not have a place to go for holidays into her home. Many Penn State students, she said, have had Thanksgiving dinner in her household. She values the connection and enrichment that comes from supporting the individuals she meets.

“For such a large university to be able to create what feels like an international community is pretty incredible,” Wilson said. “It’s a heartwarming reminder that every kid is someone’s kid, and even though they are young adults, as parents the love and worry never ceases.”

For Wilson, caring for her fellow community members is a way to spread compassion.

“This is my way of paying it forward,” she said. 

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a freshman writer from York, PA. She intends to major in biology and minor in political science. She overuses the ~tilde~ and aspires to be no other than the great Guy Fieri. You can find Colleen filling up her gas tank at Rutter’s, the ~superior~ Pennsylvania gas station. Please direct any questions or concerns to [email protected]

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