By Emily Haber and Mark Skala
As we celebrate our second National Volunteer Week, April 18- 24th since the start of the pandemic, we want to reflect upon the amazing efforts of all of the Massachusetts residents who have stepped up to support their neighbors during these long and difficult months. As leaders in our Commonwealth engaged in supporting our communities through service and volunteerism, we want to say thank you to all of the volunteers and Corps members serving tirelessly every day to make life a little better or easier for others.
So many people in the Commonwealth have been devastated or disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to those who lost loved ones or whose lives have been upended.
The pandemic has revealed so many needs, issues, concerns, deficits and bright spots. Yes, bright spots. We saw that Massachusetts residents can rally together, embrace innovation and support each other. UMass Medical School helped establish the Vaccine Corps which has over 5,700 volunteers registered to support vaccination sites across Central Massachusetts. Volunteers include medical professionals, retired health care providers, students, faculty, and staff of local colleges and universities, and community members who just want to lend a hand. Newton-based Jewish Big Brother Big Sisters’ enrollment numbers are at their highest point in years as a surprisingly large number of people have been reaching out during the pandemic to mentor.
Even though COVID shut many doctors’ offices down in the early months of the pandemic, certain critical medical procedures had to happen. Neighborhood Falmouth volunteers transported Falmouth seniors to their medical appointments, grocery shopped for them when stores felt unsafe, and have provided invaluable support in innumerable ways. One Falmouth senior wouldn’t be able to keep her beloved cat if a Neighborhood Falmouth volunteer wasn’t stopping by every day to make sure the tabby had food and water. Another senior was anxious that a technical failure would prevent her from virtually attending her brother’s online funeral. A Neighborhood Falmouth volunteer made sure her Zoom link worked properly and stayed there throughout the service to assist in case something went wrong.
The silver lining of the COVID crisis is the number of new volunteers who stepped up to help Neighborhood Falmouth members when older volunteers made the reasonable choice to step back. These new volunteers, along with the stalwart volunteers who stayed active, kept life comfortable and connected for many Falmouth seniors.
Throughout the pandemic, the Cape and Islands United Way experienced an incredible outpouring of support from the community. From generous donations to our Community Response Fund to simple acts of kindness that helped our neighbors get through – we banded together in tough times and feel more united than before. In response to the crisis, the Massachusetts Service Alliance, the Cape and Islands United Way, and other regional nonprofit networks partnered to launch an online state-of-the-art statewide nonprofit platform, https://msaconnectsforgood.org, to connect nonprofits with potential volunteers, donors, and partners. the Massachusetts Service Alliance created the COVID-19 Resiliency Grant and awarded 56 organizations across the Commonwealth, including Neighborhood Falmouth, with funding to address senior isolation, youth education, food insecurity, housing mediation and mental health. The grants will engage nearly 8,000 volunteers and provide $220,000 worth of funding.
Blue skies are returning after this pandemic disaster. People of all ages will want to continue to help their neighbors as an uneven and inequitable recovery unfolds. Our organizations stand ready to ensure we truly rebuild in a way that better prepares our Commonwealth and communities for what’s next.
Emily Haber is CEO of the Massachusetts Service Alliance. Mark Skala is CEO of the Cape & Islands United Way. They are partners in MSAConnectsForGood.org, a guide to nonprofits serving Massachusetts.