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Barbara L. Stewart, CEO, Corporation for National and Community Service

The threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic presents challenges unlike anything we have seen in recent history. Those providing essential services on the frontlines of this pandemic – nurses, doctors, emergency responders have our immense respect and appreciation for the sacrifices they make to protect our communities. Eager to make a difference, Americans across the country are looking for ways they, too, can help.

At the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), we are also asking the question, “What does volunteerism look like in the time of coronavirus?”

For all of us who want to help our local communities, operating during a pandemic is new territory. How can we continue to meet community needs when health and safety calls for us to be apart?

I find inspiration in stories from all across the country as individuals, nonprofits, companies, and our own AmeriCorps and Senior Corps volunteers find creative ways to meet community needs. Let me start with a few examples from our programs:

  • Dedicated Senior Corps volunteers are performing “safe volunteering” by coordinating food delivery services for seniors, sewing masks for health care providers, and completing wellness checks with other seniors over the phone.
  • AmeriCorps members are creating digital resources for students and parents. Schools are deploying AmeriCorps members to tutor children online and make sure they stay engaged through school closures.
  • Governors and State Service Commissions are working together to stand up relief funds and volunteer networks, coordinate personal protective equipment drives, and provide mini-grants to organizations addressing COVID-19.

More broadly, local volunteers help lead the way to meet community needs, especially during the time of coronavirus.

They are neighbors helping neighbors by delivering meals or walking dogs for those who are at-risk or sheltered-in-place. Their small acts of kindness make a big difference and demonstrate that no matter the adversity we face, the American people will always find solutions to meet community needs.

We see stories of people reaching out to others via social media, neighborhood listserves, group texts, or notes left taped to front doors. They are asking, “What can I do for you? Do you need something from the grocery store? Can I pick up dinner?”

My work with volunteers has taught me that people are driven by an undeniable call to help others. Faced with the hurdles of social distancing, they still find a way to safely serve. Yes, we must follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations, but you can still follow your heart if it calls you to assist your neighbors. In fact, we created a 10-step guide to help you safely serve your community during COVID-19.
This is not the “volunteering” we are used to, but we are evolving to meet the challenges of the day and finding new ways to serve. To reach the other side of this dangerous pandemic will require sacrifice, tenacity, and resilience from millions of Americans. It will also require strong community involvement as we ensure the safety of our friends and neighbors.

We already know that volunteerism creates a sense of unity that allows our differences to fall away as we work together to address common needs. By coming together to aid one another, we create a culture that will last long after this threat subsides.

Now is the time to ask: How can I help? What role can I play in our nation’s response to this pandemic?

Lean in to meet the unmet needs of your community. Discover new ways to lend a hand and be open to accepting help if you are now the one who needs it. Stay safe and do your part to slow the spread of the coronavirus by following CDC guidelines and explore ways to safely support your community on our website.

I offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who is answering the call to serve their neighbors during this difficult time. I look forward to continuing to serve our nation alongside you.

Barbara L. Stewart is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that leads AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the nation's volunteer efforts.