Volunteering is often pictured as serving at a soup kitchen, visiting the elderly, or helping to improve a community space. All involving in-person interaction. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout communities, in-person volunteering is rare, and limited if so. But service is still possible. Just as our homes have become our workspaces, classrooms, and gyms, they can be our community service sites as well.
Serving from home, or “virtual volunteering”, can take many forms. Volunteers can help build websites, strategize solutions to organizational problems, make calls to fundraise or provide outreach, and more. With the assistance of a computer or phone, nonprofit organizations can still utilize the skills of volunteers who are stuck at home and looking for meaningful experiences.
Those stuck at home can also utilize virtual volunteering to build their own experience. In a time where jobs and internships are harder to obtain, virtual volunteering is an opportunity for students seeking to explore their interests or gain experience applicable to their career goals. During the week of August 17th – August 20th, students in the Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES) Program participated in reachOUT, exemplifying how serving virtually can benefit local nonprofit organizations and provide valuable career exploration experience.
ReachOUT is a service-learning event for ACES students in conjunction with reachHIRE – a week of signature summer programming for rising ACES high school seniors traditionally underrepresented in higher education. In collaboration with some of my generous colleagues from the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) and Montgomery College (MC), and multiple local organizations, we executed four virtual service-learning projects.
The projects included creating a community asset map, writing letters and creating artwork for isolated older adults, designing persuasive flyers about the importance of wearing masks, and drafting a proposal to meet challenges faced by local organizations fighting food insecurity. Over 80 students attended the optional week-long program, with many students participating in multiple service projects. Students not only completed service but learned about opportunities for continued service with reachOUT’s nonprofit organization partners and potential career paths in each sector.
For example, students who wrote letters and created artwork for older adults met Dr. Lori Marks, the founder and executive director of Link Generations. Link Generations is a local organization dedicated to educating students about aging and facilitating intergenerational programs that connect youth and older adults. Dr. Marks introduced students to the field of gerontology; 81 percent of students had never heard of it prior to participating in the project. Since completing this project, two students have already connected with Dr. Marks about exploring internship opportunities at Link Generations.
Through virtual service, individuals can safely give their time and abilities to benefit their communities, while also building their career experience and enhancing their skillsets. As we’re stuck at home with more time on our hands for the foreseeable future, take advantage of that time to support a local organization or movement you’re passionate about. In our 2020 world, we could use some extra goodness, and our communities can use our service more than ever.
About the Author: Mary Kate Luft
Mary Kate Luft dedicated a year to service as an AmeriCorps VISTA in 2019. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, she came to USG to serve the Achieving Collegiate Excellence & Success Program (ACES), a select Montgomery County college-access program for traditionally underrepresented students in higher education. Through her service, Luft supported the creation of high school career readiness curriculum for ACES students. Luft now serves as the Interim ACES Success Coordinator at USG, supporting 130+ USG ACES students through their baccalaureate degree completion.