As we celebrate our second National Volunteer Week, April 18- 24, 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.
The Lowell Association for the Blind (LAB) has strived to continue their volunteer activities and support during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially regarding their Radio Reading Program. Before the pandemic, volunteers visited the LAB studio to read and broadcast local news to the blind and visually impaired. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the organization had to restructure their Radio Program to allow their volunteers to read and record news articles from home. Their volunteers were able to borrow LAB’s microphones to read the local news and send it to LAB so they are still able to broadcast their weekly readings to their clients. Jane from Tyngsboro, a long-time LAB volunteer is very excited about being able to continue providing her services and she and other committed volunteers send in readings multiple times a week so there is no lack of information or news for LAB’s clientele to hear.
In response to the crisis, Massachusetts Service Alliance, United Way of Mass Bay & Merrimack Valley, Encore Boston Network, 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 Lowell Association for the Blind, 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. Doug Dickson is the Board Chair of the Encore Boston Network. They are partners in MSAConnectsForGood.org, a guide to nonprofits serving Massachusetts.