Volunteering in a Time of Social Distancing

Volunteering in a time of social distancing

Three years ago I began a grand plan: I will assist retirees in finding a volunteer opportunity that can help them become engaged. I undertook to produce interviews that were at once inspirational and also informative. Geared for the nearly and newly retired, I made these 15–20 minute interviews available through a podcast and as blog posts on a website.

It’s hard to believe that three years have passed so quickly. Hard also to believe that I did 100 of those interviews. I’d like to take a moment and reflect on what I’ve learned and offer a challenge.

I started the adventure by being curious: What do retirees volunteer to do? And I found very quickly that the range of options was nearly limitless. I talked to people who volunteered around the world and people who volunteered from their own living room. I heard from folks who followed their love for music or other talents and hobbies and from individuals who pitched in where a helping hand was sorely needed.

I found people who supported others whether the recipients were senior citizens, people with special needs, the marginalized who daily navigate hunger and poverty, or those who have served our country and now need our service. Folks who volunteer also teach, garden, answer questions, bus tables, counsel, stock shelves, care for animals and birds, play music, provide transportation, coach, and much more.

I talked with volunteers who latched on to a cause and established entirely new organizations. They

  • Helped feed hungry school children between Friday afternoon and Monday morning
  • Supplied food so that a lean budget wouldn’t mean losing a loving pet
  • Built a community of professionals to provide dental care to those who would otherwise go without that essential service
  • Provide scholarships to high school graduates who demonstrate both great need and also great determination to overcome barriers
  • And more

Establishing an organization meant that those volunteers could multiply the effect of their individual dream.

And I visited with others who worked with longstanding organizations or communities like Special Olympics, Senior Olympics, foster parents organizations, museums, and more.

I found a wealth of opportunity, a willingness to make a difference, and a panoply of response to the the needs of so many.

You and I are coming to the start of a second year of isolation due to COVID-19. Inability to “get out” severely curtailed a lot of “business as usual” efforts. Often times, while response of volunteers was curtailed, the need for the services provided did not change. Marginalized communities in particular suffered more in these months than some others.

You will be glad to know that many of the organizations have responded to this crisis with ingenuity and dedication. Take Project Transformation, for example. They have creatively responded to children’s needs virtually and with alternative food delivery methods.

Where electronic responses cannot suffice, still other organizations have turned to social distancing, masks, and the courage of volunteers.

My challenge to you is to not give up. If you want to make a difference, if you are tired of the limits imposed by the pandemic, don’t lose heart. Be curious. Be adventurous. I know the pandemic has not stopped your concern. The pandemic may change how you respond but it needn’t dim your purpose.

Ask me about these podcasts. I still have a library of 100 podcasts that you can turn to for ideas and can direct you to them. You might be surprised at how many people I interviewed before the pandemic who essentially complete their volunteer activity straight out of their home. Having to stay at home need not be a limit.

I also know that the organizations listed in these podcasts have creative people unwilling to stop serving. I’m sure they have ideas of where to serve and what you can do. Seek them out.

If you want more ideas about how to serve, the following websites can be your connection to volunteer but also to find additional ideas of how:

Volunteer Match

Hands on Nashville

AARP Create the Good

Fifty Forward

I’m like a gardener who plants a tree. I don’t believe I’ve yet experienced the whole impact my encouragement to volunteer will have. That part is up to you. Go out and water. And, if I want to be responsive to the Biblical text, “It is God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Ed Zinkiewicz

…the retired guy

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