Originally published in the Dallas Morning News
Front porch concerts are one way that the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) is serving seriously ill patients while CDC guidelines for safe distances during COVID-19 are still in place. By singing and playing an instrument on a person’s porch or patio or in their yard, music therapists continue to provide much-needed therapy. Hospice patients and caregivers watch through a window as the therapist performs. “They don’t get a lot of visitors these days,” says VNA hospice music therapist Karen Scholander. “So this brings a lot of joy.”
The concerts are just one way volunteering looks different during the current pandemic, and it might surprise you to learn just how many opportunities there are to make a difference while staying safe. And though a porch concert does require you to leave home, there are hundreds of ways to help that do not. From making cards for seniors who are not allowed to have visitors right now to baking cookies for SoupMobile, from calling to check in on the homebound to helping someone with Microsoft Excel, there’s an opportunity for everyone who wants to spread cheer but not coronavirus.
Make the first move
“It’s easy for people to say, ‘Yes, I want to be a neighbor,’ but the next step is to actually act,” says Rob Peabody, co-founder and CEO of VOMO, a hub that connects people and organizations that need assistance with those ready to assist. By extending its Be a Neighbor campaign, which launched last fall, “We are trying to create as many low-barrier-to-entry projects as we can.” Some of those projects are as simple as picking up a prescription for someone who relies on public transportation to get to the drugstore but should avoid that right now due to an underlying health condition, or lending a hand to a nonprofit that has furloughed staff but still needs someone to do administrative work.
In March, VOMO made its volunteer management platform free for any organization that wants to join. It also added a function that allows people who need help to ask for it.
Since then, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has also shifted volunteer gears, says Corporate Engagement Director Cara Dudley. Prior to the pandemic, the organization offered only opportunities to volunteer in person. “The silver lining here is that it puts us in a place to reach more people,” Dudley says, “and I think that will extend beyond just this time.” United Way can connect volunteers with simple tasks, such as thanking a health care provider, or very specialized ones, such as working as an SQL developer. One of her favorite opportunities is recording a video of yourself reading a children’s story using your phone.
“Whether you bring an essential need or a smile, now’s the time to use your skills and resources to give back in only the way you can,” Dudley says.