Students find new ways to serve the community throughout the pandemic
Throughout the pandemic, students have struggled to fulfill the school’s Fourth Founding Tenet: Service to Others.
The original community service requirements demanded students to have logged 25 hours by May of sophomore year and another 25 by the end of senior year. Moreover, students could earn no more than 20 hours per year volunteering indirectly. Concerns over contracting COVID-19, cancellations and closures of venues, have made volunteering difficult; however, students have found new ways to serve, and the school has adjusted its requirements.
“The main change that we made was for sophomores and seniors,” Community Service Director Courtney Phelps said. “Their deadline has been lifted, and they need to focus on having their total number by the time they graduate.”
According to a Sept. 26 poll of 249 students, 45 percent of students get the majority of their hours during the summer through various trips and camps. Because many of these activities were canceled, students have had to find alternative service opportunities to fulfill their graduation requirement.
“[The cancellation of summer trips and camps] had a major effect on many students being able to get their hours, but, for the most part, I know everyone is trying to adjust,” Phelps said. “I also know organizations are trying to adjust as much as possible to be able to still provide students with some type of opportunity.”
Some students have adjusted to the situation by participating in online service opportunities. Over the summer, junior Virginia Nussbaumer participated in an online tutoring program for T.R. Hoover Community Development Center, a neighborhood association composed of low income families.
“I usually go to a camp during the summer and get service hours there,” Nussbaumer said. “When it got canceled, I found an online opportunity instead. I helped younger kids through an online tutoring program, and I basically did four hours a week of online tutoring sessions for eight weeks.”
Nonprofits have found ways to allow in-person volunteering while following safety protocols by requiring and supplying face masks and social distancing. Junior Mary Grace Altizer volunteered over the summer at Brother Bill’s Helping Hand and Feed My Starving Children.
“At Brother Bill’s, I wore a face mask, and they provided a face shield,” Altizer said. “We restocked their shelves and then [went] ‘shopping’ for groceries for their customers. At Feed My Starving Children, I packed manna packs (meals with rice, protein, soy, and veggies) for children overseas. We all wore masks, hairnets and gloves, and we were separated by group.”
But despite many changes and the continued worry about the pandemic, nonprofits are still in need.
“I felt very safe at both organizations, and I was happy to be able to continue community service even in the midst of the pandemic,” Altizer said. “It is really important to still find ways to give back and serve because many of the original problems community service aims to alleviate have only been perpetuated by the pandemic.”
While 62 percent of students have continued to volunteer during the pandemic, 38 percent have not. Although nonprofits have found ways to keep volunteers safe, not all students are comfortable going out to serve.
“I planned on going to Camp Barnabas to get service hours this summer, but when the pandemic hit, I decided it wasn’t the best option to go out and serve,” sophomore Sarah Cabrales said. “I did my best to continue serving remotely, but lifting the deadline was really helpful so I can go back out and serve when I feel comfortable doing so.”
The demands of many nonprofits have only increased during the pandemic. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, 1.6 million nonprofit jobs were lost between February and May.
“Food banks and homeless shelters are serving double the number of clients than they were before the pandemic,” Phelps said. “This means they need more financial support and donations. Overall, the pandemic has not only caused more people to need help but also limited some nonprofits in how they can help.”
Although nonprofits may be struggling, they continue to help those in need.
“Ultimately, the pandemic showed us how easily you can fall further into poverty and require assistance,” Phelps said. “It shows us how much support our local nonprofits are giving despite struggling themselves.”