By J1 Reporter Bailey Kollasch
The need for volunteers has never been more important than it has been this year, but the restrictions on popular volunteer sites because of COVID-19 complicates the matter. Particularly for the National Honor Society (NHS) candidates who had yet to fulfill their volunteer requirement of 15 hours for a single association during their high school years by Oct. 1.
NHS membership is an honor bestowed on students who thoroughly demonstrate the society’s four pillars: scholarship, leadership, service, and character. After being carefully selected for their 3.8 GPA and good character, determined during a faculty meeting, the students are sent a candidate form asking about their acts of leadership and service in high school. Once the forms are sent in, the Marian girls accepted into NHS are acknowledged as the academic leaders of the school.
Despite the benefits, some girls ceded their role in the NHS. “I was going to go with one of my friends to a retirement home, but you can’t do that now,” said Kayla Brezack, one of the junior candidates. Retirement homes are a common destination for students seeking volunteer opportunities, but the new restrictions keep volunteers like Brezack out.
Senior living facilities such as Heritage Communities are also struggling with these regulations. Before the pandemic, volunteers would come every day to provide more for the residents than the basic care they receive like church programs, fun activities, and bringing pets to the residents. However, this changed on March 9, 2020 when one of Heritage Communities’ retirement homes in Grand Island, NE enacted a lockdown, halting all volunteer work for the facility in the process. Many other locations followed suit. Three Heritage Communities operate in Omaha.
“The care and service are fine, but volunteers are, sadly, not essential, so we stopped to protect the residents,” Mrs. Amy Birkel, the chief operating officer of Heritage Communities who oversees the senior residents’ care, said.
In recent months, Heritage Communities across the country have reopened their facilities to volunteers who have met certain requirements. They must bring Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as masks, fill out a wellness check form, and have their temperatures taken. Thus, the number of people who sign up to help Heritage Communities care for their seniors has decreased. Few and sometimes no volunteers arrive monthly compared to the abundance of help they received each month before the lockdown.
The absence of volunteers affects the residents, as they enjoy speaking with and learning from the younger generations who volunteer. “The demand for volunteers is still there, but volunteers are restricted,” Birkel said.
Senior Cleo Wear can attest to that since her summer this year was busy with volunteer work. Unlike Heritage Communities, the volunteer opportunities she took had fewer restrictions, but similar precautions toward COVID-19. One of her tasks was to teach soccer to preschoolers at St. Robert Bellarmine School. Although Wear had to put on a mask and resist the adorableness of giving the kids congratulation high fives and hugs, she was able to volunteer like she usually did.
In her mission of service, Wear was met with the barrier of Marian not having the service fair this year, a resource available to students in search of volunteer opportunities. She was able to overcome this by simply contacting the organization where she wanted to volunteer. Some other options are to visit one of the Omaha volunteer websites such as VolunteerMatch, look at the bottom of the Daily Bulletin on the Marian website, or look at the screens in the QUAD for more available volunteer opportunities.
What it means to volunteer has changed like many of the things in the world today. However, what Marian students might not know is how small the influence of the new regulations of popular service sites have on their volunteer opportunities.
A lot of the NHS applicants were pressured this year according to Mrs. Joanne Fisher, a counselor and NHS Moderator at Marian. “I felt that it had seemed to be more challenging for the applicants to feel as if they had done true service hours, in the traditional sense of the word. However, I was impressed by the unique service the girls did because they did service in a different format,” Fisher said.
Some Marian girls had achieved their volunteer hours by sending notes to a senior pen pal, attending neighborhood cleanups, donating, etc. Similarly, organizations like Heritage Communities are doing some out-of-the-box thinking of their own to incorporate volunteers into their community once more. They are making an effort to change the type of tasks for the volunteers to be more outdoors to protect the residents while getting the extra help they need.