Meagan Smith, Assistant Director for Vanderbilt’s Office of Active Citizenship and Service (OACS), and her team are coordinating with local and national organizations to ensure that virtual and in-person volunteer opportunities are available throughout the summer and fall for students.
“There are some larger non-profits that have already posted virtual volunteer opportunities,” Smith said. “We have a list on our website, but we’d really like to highlight the work of our local orgs and support them however we can.”
Vanderbilt’s OACS provides students with a list of online volunteer opportunities ranging from fundraising to data entry with organizations like Hands on Nashville, UN online volunteers and the National Park Service. OACS is eager to showcase more projects, Smith said, and is encouraging students to share any new online opportunities with their office to create a comprehensive virtual service resource.
According to Smith, the OACS is planning for scenarios in which students partially or entirely return to campus. For in-person volunteer work, the OACS is working with Vanderbilt’s strategic planning to determine how group size, transportation, and training may need to be altered so that volunteers can directly engage with the community in a safe and responsible manner.
The March 3 tornado and COVID-19 outbreak increased the need for volunteer organizations in the Nashville and Middle Tennesse area, said Lindsey Turner, communications director for Hands on Nashville.
“One week after the tornado, 26,000 individuals signed up to volunteer for tornado recovery efforts,” Turner said.
According to Turner, cleanup efforts for the tornado were underway across areas of Middle Tennessee in mid-March, but many of these projects were put on hold once the Nashville Mayor’s Office issued the Safer at Home Order on March 15. This order provided exceptions to volunteers that “reach critical needs,” and many volunteer resources were diverted from cleanup efforts to projects that met needs, such as food, shelter and COVID-19 testing support, Turner said.
As of now, volunteering opportunities are being evaluated by individual organizations on a case-by-case basis to see how the opportunities need to be shifted or reduced to meet the area’s new public health demands. However, as organizations release guidelines for health and safety training, the OACS will work with organizations to ensure Vanderbilt’s students can properly engage with all of the community partners, Smith said.
As social distancing measures gradually lift and volunteering opportunities expand to address more than the community’s critical needs, Hands on Nashville is adhering to Volunteer Tennessee’s COVID-19 volunteering guidelines, which provide context for volunteering while adhering to social distancing guidelines per Turner.
In addition to limiting group size and recommending a variety of sanitizing practices, these guidelines discourage individuals who are feeling sick and individuals with higher COVID-19 risk factors from directly engaging in volunteer work. In addition, the guidelines place greater responsibility on younger volunteers, something Hands on Nashville has seen firsthand over the past three months since the March 3 tornado, Turner said.
“People who are traditionally college age, that 19-22 range, there was a big outpouring of support following the tornado, and people in that age range have continued to sign up in the past few weeks for lots of COVID-related and food insecurity-related opportunities,” Turner said.