How We Serve is Changing, Why We Serve (and Why It Matters) Remains the Same

Apr 29, 2020

As Global Volunteer Month comes to a close, and as our world remains forever changed (and still changing) in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we can’t help but get reflective.

We know that the need for service is greater now than ever. We know that helping others, like so many facets of life, is going to look different going forward – and likely (hopefully) for the better. We also know that the people most impacted by the crisis are the people depending on the communities that surround them to encircle them with kindness and love.

Even as we put distance between ourselves, so many stories have emerged of our community circles growing wider. Italians taking to their balconies to sing in unison, lifting spirits. New Yorkers cheering for health care workers every night during their shift change. People dusting off their sewing machines to make (and give away) masks out of quilting fabric.

In the darkness, we’ve seen light.

Global Volunteer Month Activation Partner Idealist, which connects people with opportunities for social impact action, does incredible work promoting both nonprofit jobs as well as service opportunities. Around and amid this crisis, their work has been even more critical.

We spoke with them about three important thing they’re seeing as it relates to the future of service. Taken together, these three things leave us hopeful and inspired.

First, during the crisis, people were (and still are) at home wanting to help. Idealist saw people offering to do grocery runs or trips to the pharmacy for their elderly neighbors. Young people were walking dogs or mowing lawns for neighbors. People were doing whatever they could to help those in their immediate proximity. Sometimes they found those opportunities through a flier in a mailbox, or a sign posted in an apartment lobby.

Idealist created a global directory of mutual aid, where people can find these small (but so meaningful!) ways to help someone, person-to-person, right where they live. These directories give people a way to find purpose amid so much uncertainty. Ideally, that sense of purpose will translate to continued service once the immediate crisis is over. The world is forever changed, so are we as citizens of it.

Second, Idealist also saw that organizations like foodbanks or soup kitchens that require in-person volunteers were hit especially hard by the crisis. The need for what they do was greater than ever, but the availability of volunteers was at an incongruent low point – whether that was due to stay-at-home orders or the vulnerability of their volunteers themselves (often older retirees, for example). At Points of Light, we regularly connect individuals and families with ways to get involved with their local Global Network affiliate, and we are going to even more aggressively promote and encourage that activity going forward.

Finally, Idealist rightly observed that the global pandemic also brought about a wave of what you could call “virtual volunteering.” By that they mean that people used their devices and online platforms to connect with others well outside the traditional definition of a community. During the crisis college students tutored school children on opposite sides of the country – or even the planet. People on social media shared the addresses of nursing homes so that others could send greeting cards to residents who were separated from their families. Idealist, on its Facebook page, saw a woman in Arizona donate and mail elastic to a woman in Alaska who was sewing masks for healthcare workers. The stories we know about represent hundreds, maybe even thousands that we don’t.

The problems we faced before the crisis were complex. The crisis made them even more so. As we come out the other side of this pandemic, we will be judged as a society by how we rose to the challenge. Did we go insular and circle our wagons; or did we open our communities and our hearts for the betterment of everyone within them?

The pandemic changed so much. It’s our hope that it also changed our sense of connectedness to our neighbors. Our honorable and dutiful obligation to one another. The purpose and power we have when we serve others.

Global Volunteer Month was intended to be a moment to pause and to celebrate service. More than that, it’s a moment to recognize and reinvest in it. A phrase we’ve heard so often over the last several weeks is: We’re all in this together. We’ve been in this together. Let’s be better in it together; for a better “this” and a better tomorrow.

To learn more about any of these initiatives or to learn more about Points of Light and Global Volunteer Month, please visit: https://www.pointsoflight.org/global-volunteer-month/

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