Is Volunteer Engagement the Answer to Resiliency after Crisis?

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By Rob Peabody

Could the answer to building strong, resilient communities after COVID-19 be found in volunteer engagement?

That’s the question we’ve been asking ourselves for months now. On a national and even global scale, the pandemic has affected everyone. But there’s a togetherness that comes from shared efforts, and it’s in that space that we find hope. When we realize that we need each other, and start to see our neighbors as friends and allies rather than strangers, the community is built.

VOMO is deeply rooted in the principle of collaboration for the greater good. We got our start mobilizing volunteers for Hurricane Harvey. We were able to build a strong network of organizations and maximize rather than duplicate efforts. A few months later, a major tornado hit Dallas, and we were able to quickly respond because we already had a relief infrastructure in place. And then again, when the pandemic hit, we were in place and ready to launch the Be A Neighbor Campaign

VOMO intentionally focuses on the five stages of disaster relief: Pre-disaster preparedness, emergency relief, short-term recovery, long-term recovery and rebuilding. We have created a plan to effectively help communities because it’s through working together that resilience will happen.

Volunteer Engagement in Pre-disaster Preparedness

What we have learned from past tornadoes and hurricanes is that when it hits it’s kind of too late. Cities, counties, disaster response agencies, and humanitarian agencies all need a disaster mitigation plan in place. 

That’s where we come in. If we equip people in advance with the VOMO platform on their phones, we can send a push notification out immediately to make people aware of those needs. It’s important to have your community networked together and prepared. If we set that up now, then when it does hit, you’ll be ready.

Volunteer Engagement in Emergency Relief

We equip relief organizations with an essential tool for the crisis. A good example is our recent partnership with Mercury One to build a disaster relief portal. With this system in place, we can mobilize people very quickly through any personal device. We can drive immediate help by mobilizing the helpers and equipping the nonprofits who are quarterbacking on the ground.

That’s where we are now with Hurricane Laura. As soon as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began predicting that 2020 will be an unusually active hurricane season, we started preparations. We realized that this would be an especially challenging season with efforts inhibited by social distancing because of COVID-19. 

Volunteer Engagement for Short-term Recovery

When natural disasters hit, it pulls people together from all aspects of society. Communities will rebuild faster and be more resilient when representatives from the various sectors of society work together. By coordinating relief it ensures that efforts are not duplicated and that no vulnerable person falls through the cracks.

This is also the stage of recovery where skilled volunteers can play an essential role in efficiently mobilizing efforts. We have seen the use of volunteers carried out very effectively by disaster relief organizations. The Red Cross has a team of 372,000 volunteers who help coordinate relief efforts. 

Volunteer Engagement for Long-term Recovery

Disaster takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll on communities. There are layers of relief that need to occur. Once the immediate physical needs are taken care of, then the focus has to turn to life beyond the crisis and how to start over again. 

Community is more important than ever at this point and a place where we believe VOMO can play a critical part in the rebuilding process. I see it as a foundational tool to equip organizations, business leaders, and local government by giving them a framework to build on. We also provide creative solutions like the “submit a need” button, putting the power of speaking to actual needs in the hands of neighbors. When they see an issue, they can submit a need.

Neighbors helping neighbors is the key to resilience. You democratize recovery by putting it in the hands of individuals, and then bring your established nonprofits alongside to vet the submitted needs and undergird the recovery process. 

Volunteer Engagement during the Rebuilding Process

Resiliency is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and crisis” and it is an essential element in rebuilding. This occurs most effectively when leaders do three things: observe what’s going on, listen attentively, and create solutions. 

One of the greatest ways to rebuild quickly is through volunteering. It provides a meaningful way for individuals to contribute and help their community. When disaster strikes, our first response is always “I want to do something.” So when opportunities are provided for neighbors to assist neighbors in the rebuilding process, it has a positive effect both on an individual and a corporate level. 

As people work together towards a common purpose and come to see each other as friends rather than strangers, lives are transformed. Strong relationships lead to thriving communities. Having engaged volunteers also enables existing nonprofits to more effectively fulfill their missions, which expedites the rebuilding process. 

Volunteering can indeed be an avenue for building resilient communities after a crisis, as well as thriving cities for years to come.

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