The surge of the coronavirus has presented people and organizations committed to serving their communities with a complex problem to solve. With the current situation the world is in, many people feel more inclined than ever to give back to their communities by helping others. The media highlights that many people are volunteering during the Covid-19 pandemic because people want ‘to give back,’ having received support from the National Health Service for a previous illness . Volunteering can help individuals feel they are doing something at a time of crisis, or it can enable them to cope with the sad accounts they hear every day in the media . The people of a community have the ability to be a resource for those in need, which is essential in these times. However, with stay-at-home orders in place across the country, many people are restricted from leaving their homes to perform acts of service. The problem many are left to solve is how they can help support organizations from their living rooms’ confines while staying safe and following the given restrictions. The answer is virtual volunteering.
Nonprofit organizations and online platforms regularly focused on providing information about volunteering have adapted to meet the new demand for at-home volunteering. Due to the incredible technological advancements of this era, people can positively impact their communities from their homes. Many websites can offer different opportunities for virtual volunteering. For instance, VolunteerMatch provides a digital record of volunteer opportunities in cities across the United States online. In response to Covid-19, VolunteerMatch launched a portal specifically for promoting virtual volunteer opportunities that aid communities impacted by the coronavirus . Volunteers can search through an inventory of Covid-19 related options as well as a database of virtual engagements with organizations in need of help to continue their services. Similarly, Points of Light, an organization dedicated to volunteer service, works with its members to offer original and impactful ways for people to take action in their communities. In recognition of Global Volunteer Month and due to Covid-19, the organization published tools, resources, and virtual volunteer opportunities from across the Points of Light Global Network of members. In addition, Help From Home offers the chance to make an impact outside of COVID-19 in one’s spare time. Help From Home is a UK-based corporation that fosters participation in easy-to-do micro-volunteering opportunities. As little as thirty minutes is all that is needed to help out worthy causes according to Help From Home. The program strives to amplify volunteer participation rates worldwide and build its database of actions that anyone can participate in, no matter where they are.
Furthermore, I, too, can relate to online volunteering. In ninth grade, I started attending Ishine meetings every Thursday, where I spent time with underprivileged families and children with disabilities before the pandemic. Unfortunately, there were a couple of months where the program stopped, but it recently moved to Zoom, where I log on a couple of days a week to help children with their homework and play games. Keeping kids and teens home may be the safest option in a pandemic, but for some students, such as young children and those with special needs, virtual learning may not work at all . There, I have been able to help young kids complete their homework and bond with many kids through talking and playing games with them. A classmate and fellow Ishine volunteer, Leah Winterman, explained, “To me, helping the kids in Ishine is very important because I am giving them an extra hand in something that they are struggling with or something that they find challenging, especially with COVID causing classes to move online, which is already something that takes time to adapt to.”
However, students don’t need to rely on such websites to find something they will enjoy and offer their help. Students can use their unique skills like knowledge of sports or academics to have an impact on people’s lives. For example, suppose a student is fluent in a second language. In that case, Translators Without Borders is looking for people to translate a variety of materials, such as medical texts and crisis-response messages . This is only one of many possible ways one can associate their skills with volunteering. Hillel’s middle school community service director, Mrs. Eisenberger, explains, “Community service is so important during a “normal” non-COVID year. There are so many people and organizations that could use people’s help. Now that the world is in a COVID-era, volunteers are needed more than ever. People can stay safe while aiding their community. With Zoom and remote connection options, distance and location can be removed from the equation. There are always opportunities to do good.” As in so many areas of people’s lives, we anticipate a new normal for volunteering with new models of participation for people and expect that the fresh thinking happening today will have a long-lasting impact on the future of volunteering for development. New ideas are needed now more than ever because volunteers have unique attributes that make them essential to the response. That will put them at the heart of restoring societies and economies when this stage of COVID-19 has passed. Volunteers form relationships with communities, organizations, and governments, which creates a solid foundation on which volunteers can improve their local colleagues’ skills and abilities and have a positive impact.