Sunday, March 29, 2020

Volunteer in Place

There is a huge untapped resource for combatting COVID-19, and it is growing just as fast as the pandemic. I am referring to the shut-ins, like me, who suddenly find ourselves with time to occupy while home alone that previously we would have spent in company or out in public at work or play.

This has been very frustrating, not only because of the loss of personal opportunities, but also because it inhibits reaching out to help people who have been even more adversely affected by the virus’s medical and nonmedical effects. So far the way not to feel completely useless has been to consider that “We also serve who only stand and wait.” By sheltering in place and without guests we not only protect ourselves but also others whom we might infect if we happened to be carrying the virus without symptoms. Furthermore, even in protecting only ourselves, we free up hospital personnel and beds and ventilators for others.

But this is not very emotionally satisfying, and anyway there is much more that we could be doing even in our constrained situation. And not only for victims of this virus but for people having other needs that pre-existed it, since the world’s woes are beyond counting and more pervasive than even the coronavirus. And there are not only people and other animals suffering and dying now but also those whose pain or death might be prevented by timely interventions.

So suddenly it occurs to me that many of the people and causes we already assist by volunteer work of various kinds can still be helped, sometimes in the same ways, sometimes by innovative means, even though direct physical contact with others may be blocked, and in some cases even more effectively than before the pandemic.

That is because, first as noted, so many of us now have some extra time on our hands. But second, because the present crisis suggests technological applications and innovations to increase our capacity to help.

Thus, I can’t help but wonder if some kind of crowdsourcing could assist in the critical mapping of the virus’s spread. The scientific community has been training citizen scientists to analyze data online for years.

At a less exotic yet still highly effective level, a simple Volunteer at Home app could be developed that links any computer or smartphone user to organizations in one’s own community that could use your help from home, perhaps via that same computer or smartphone. And I’m sure many nonprofits would appreciate technical help with providing their clients and volunteers with new interactive capabilities. The possibilities seem limitless.

Needless to say, this kind of work … both developing such software and the rest of us utilizing it, as well as, of course, countless “low tech” ways of helping others elsewhere while we stay at home … has its rewards for the volunteer too, and the benefits for all could last well beyond the present pandemic.

Why just shelter in place when you could also volunteer in place (VIP)? Be a COVID-19 VIP!