Volunteers make a difference

Sunday Signal

By Mary Petersen

Signal Staff Writer

I stayed a few days with my friend Joan who had a hip replacement last month. It was a gentle reminder that illnesses, diseases and conditions don’t stop during a pandemic. Surgeries and procedures continue; it’s just that the pandemic makes recovery more complicated for patients.

Since Joan lives alone, she needed 24-hour assistance for the first several days, but during these uncertain times she felt wary of bringing an unfamiliar caregiver into the home. Joan’s elderly mother would have come to stay with her while she was recuperating, but her mother’s potential exposure to COVID was not a risk her family wanted to take. Joan might have stayed with her sister during recuperation, but her sister has a preexisting condition that puts her at risk. 

Joan’s story illustrates the difficulties that have arisen from the pandemic’s constraints on social contact.  More than ever, people who are confined need assistance to manage their daily lives. Many people, especially seniors, are isolated and require support to meet their crucial needs, especially in the absence of family members.

The good news is that people are stepping up to meet the needs of those whose options are limited. 

In New York City, there has been a surge in new volunteers since the pandemic began. Communities have been coming together to help one another.

“This surge in people wanting to help their neighbors really is, and continues to be, incredible,” says Anusha Venkataraman, chief service officer for the city who leads NYC Service, a branch of the mayor’s office that focuses on volunteerism. 

This scenario played out in England as well. New research in the UK found that volunteers formed a crucial part of its national response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Findings from a study organized by Mobilizing Volunteers Effectively (MoVE) at the Universities of Sheffield, Hull and Leeds found that informal volunteering and “good neighborliness” have been key to providing support and serving communities. Local volunteers can respond quickly especially when bureaucratic delays slow down service. As volunteers step in to offer essential help they say they receive as much as they give.

“It’s difficult to witness the pain that the virus has caused people, but it feels wonderful,” says one volunteer, “to see the immediate impact of our work.”

This energy and good will is spread­ing across America. People are finding ingenious ways to help their neighbors or community members. They are making a difference in others’ lives by volunteering to deliver meals or groceries, make social calls to residents in long-term care facilities, even record videos of themselves reading children’s books for child literacy programs.

Some are babysitting, sending cards or making crafts such as throw blankets, masks or gift baskets. This kind of compassion and selfless generosity is contributing to the well-being of others. 

It is empowering and edifying to commit to a purpose that feels meaningful. Committing to something bigger than ourselves helps us acknowledge gratitude for our blessings. Those of us who are able have an opportunity to make a positive impact in whatever capacity that is.

Mary Petersen is a retired COC English instructor, a 30-year SCV resident and two-time breast cancer survivor. 

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