My name is Jill and I am the Community Engagement Coordinator for Victoria County United Way. We cover four counties in rural south Texas–Dewitt, Lavaca, Goliad and Victoria–an area known as the Crossroads.
United Way is kind of famous for hosting two Days of Caring each year, and those typically have been in partnership with corporations through events that utilize hundreds of volunteers, mainly employees of the companies with which we partner.
But since COVID-19 hit, all of that has had to change. We decided to turn our Day of Caring into a Week of Caring and are offering 15 different events from May 16 to May 22. A maximum of six volunteers will serve at each shift so that we can keep the total number, including staff, under 10.
We want to blanket the Crossroads with volunteers and events that can happen safely but still have a big impact on our local nonprofits. Our “new normal” is going to look very different. So one of the things we have been focusing on is doing some small remodels to help our partnered nonprofits. For example, Meals on Wheels needs to have a larger dining area because people will not be able to sit so closely together, so we’re going to knock out a wall and expand that space.
For our agencies that have been using drive-throughs to distribute food, we are doing some landscaping to make their work easier because we anticipate them needing to continue that process for a while. At another one of our nonprofits, we’re modifying two walls to create separate rooms that will allow them to control the flow of people through their space a little better.
Some of the remodels are being funded through grants from large campaign partners, who typically hold huge fundraisers and volunteer efforts on our behalf. Since those events have all been canceled, this is a way our partners have still been able to help.
Normal is not normal anywhere right now, but it’s not bad. We’re discovering ways to use our army of retired volunteers by having them come in smaller groups and controlled ways that keep them safe. We’ve even created special times and extended hours so that two or three seniors can work on tasks while staying separate from the other volunteers and workers.
One of our nonprofits has formed a group of retired volunteers to call and do routine wellness checks since they provide meals for people with disabilities and have a consistent client base.
There are lots of ways that we can safely use our older volunteers and keep them engaged. It’s important for their mental health as well. It’s hard for seniors who have been so actively involved to suddenly be quarantined and isolated. I want them to know they are still vital members of society even while being forced to stay home.
I think our guidepost right now should be to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t. We are still able to make phone calls and connect with people. It might look different than what we are used to, like a Zoom call rather than an in-person meeting. But we can donate money, pack kits, and do so many projects from the safety of our homes. We even had one group who issued a mask-sewing challenge and acquired sponsorships based on the number of masks produced. It enabled them to double their impact and invite even more people into relief efforts.
I want to encourage others…let’s not miss the lesson in this season. It’s revealed resources that are lacking in our communities and systems that need to be changed. It’s taught us how to do some things more efficiently and made us slow down and really listen. Let’s not let this crazy time be wasted. We want to come out of it better than we were before.
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