Making a Difference

Generous donors and TFT's Executive Board are helping students in need through the Student Wellness Fund

By Noela Hueso

It was time.

Between taking her theater major classes on Zoom, remote rehearsals and a part-time job that the pandemic had turned into an online experience, Waverley Lim’s old computer reached its limit this past winter quarter.

“It was going seven days a week…it had its own Zoom fatigue,” she says with a laugh.

So, when it was announced that the TFT Student Wellness Fund, created not long after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020, was available for the second time to help students in financial need, Lim, a third-year undergraduate student from Florida, jumped at the chance to apply for a grant.

“The Student Wellness Fund helped me get a new computer to continue my studies, my rehearsals and my work endeavors,” she says. “I’m grateful.”

Lim is one of the many students who received aid from the fund, which was the inspiration of Interim Dean Brian Kite and the TFT Executive Board, and borne from the growing needs of TFT students affected by the pandemic. To date, more than $110,000 has been distributed as COVID-19 financial relief to more than 200 students. A third round, with applications going live on Monday, May 3, will bring the total amount distributed to more than $200,000 — all from generous donors.

The ongoing fundraising success of the Student Wellness Fund can be attributed to the ingenuity of TFT Executive Board member Liz Whitney who came up with the idea last year of creating a video that showcased the talents of TFT’s musical theater students as a means of inspiring donations; the Board would match all funds received, up to $50,000. Interim Dean Kite, who had directed the world premiere of the Matthew Puckett musical Rebel Genius at UCLA TFT in the 2018-19 academic year, ran with the suggestion and proposed that the students (and recent alumni) who had been in the cast get together over Zoom and recreate one of the show’s most powerful tunes ("671,000,000 MPH"). The result was electric.

“The Rebel Genius video was perfect in accomplishing what we set out to do,” Whitney says, “and it’s something you want to watch over and over, too, it’s so good.” After the video was released on the UCLA Spark platform, donations came pouring in.

Not every contribution has come as a result of the Rebel Genius video, however. Some donors, such as producer alumnus Dan Angel and his wife Cynthia are longtime contributors and keenly aware that giving now is even more crucial than usual. The Angels usually direct their gifts to the TFT’s annual film festival; when it was postponed in 2020, they pivoted their resources to the Student Wellness Fund.

“So many have been affected financially by this pandemic,” Angel says. “But if you're blessed to have some resources, as we do, it would seem the right thing to do help others not feel the pain. I think that’s what we are all called to do when we can.”

Film, Television and Digital Media Professor William McDonald and his wife Pamela Beere Briggs have also been generous donors to the fund.

“Knowing all the strains placed on students during the pandemic, we felt it was important to step up and help in whatever way we could to let students know that they could ask for assistance during a difficult time,” says Beere Briggs. “All of us know that challenging times can be made less frightening when we are not alone. We care. We wanted to show we care. UCLA has been part of our lives for 44 years!”

To find out more about supporting the TFT Student Wellness Fund, please contact Ana Gonzalez at

Want to apply for a Student Wellness Fund grant? Please visit
beginning Monday, May 3 at 10:00 a.m. Applications close on May 12.

Posted: April 29, 2021