The world has become a very different place in the age of COVID-19. With stay-at-home orders in place for months on end, many traditional volunteer opportunities – sorting donations, reading to kids, building houses, serving in a soup kitchen – have been significantly limited.
Despite the impact of coronavirus restrictions, the pandemic has prompted millions of experienced volunteers to find innovative ways to give back while encouraging those new to volunteering to try it out – making masks at home, helping elderly neighbors with online shopping, walking front-line health care workers’ dogs or teaching virtual classes.
This evolution of the volunteer space makes it easier than ever to fit volunteer work into a busy or largely homebound schedule. With even a couple of hours to spare, you can support a cause you are passionate about.
Giving our time and effort helping others feels good
New research in the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests that volunteers not only help their communities, they also experience a positive bump in mental health. At a time when some 33% of Americans are experiencing symptoms of pandemic-related anxiety or depression, that intrinsic reward or “warm glow” feeling provides both a buffer and a sense of control. Also, volunteering is likely to help boost one’s sense of social connection, particularly for older adults who may be feeling isolated.
And that’s not all. In study after study, researchers have found that people who volunteer lead longer, healthier, happier lives. Volunteerism correlates positively to stronger self-confidence, better quality of friendships and improved job prospects. Volunteering builds more robust social networks and, because volunteering often helps people discover their passions, the ability to tell one’s own story.
Interested? Try one of these opportunities
There are so many ways to share your time and energy! From virtual and at-home projects with an international reach to on-the-ground work in Seattle’s parks, there is something for everyone:
Virtual & Wide Reach
Help make the Smithsonian Institution’s collections more accessible by volunteering online to transcribe historical documents or edit Wikipedia articles related to their artifacts and research.
Amnesty International’s Amnesty Decoders network of digital volunteers helps conduct research into global human rights violations.
For those fluent in more than one language, Translators Without Borders combines language skills with humanitarian aid. Volunteers provide translations (10 million words a year!) to international organizations that focus on crisis relief, health and education.
Virtual & Local
Make well wish notes for local clients of Lifelong to spread good thoughts, support and greetings.
Family Law CASA of King County needs volunteers to serve as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) for children in court during custody situations. Training is provided and the position is largely virtual.
Tutor underserved K-12 students online one or more hours per week in math, science, reading or writing.
In-person & Local
Washington Trails Association offers a variety of opportunities, from local one-day work parties to multi-day volunteer vacations, working to restore and maintain our state’s public lands.
Chicken Soup Brigade needs volunteer drivers to deliver groceries and fresh meals to clients throughout King and Snohomish counties.
Create fun DIY displays at a local Habitat for Humanity store – it’s not all hammers and nails.
Phinney Neighborhood Association’s Hot Meals Program volunteers help by picking up food donations, hosting food drives and preparing, cooking, serving and cleaning up weekly meals. Shifts are available at both the Greenwood Senior Center and St. John United Lutheran Church on Greenwood Ave.
Need more ideas?
The United Way of King County website has dozens of regional opportunities! Reach out, get involved with something that excites you, and be ready to both make an impact and experience that warm glow feeling.
Want to donate more than time?
The UW Combined Fund Drive (UWCFD) has dozens of charitable organizations with funds set up to provide rapid relief for coronavirus-related hardships – click here for a curated list.
Contributions to the UW Employee Emergency Fund will help employees facing financial hardships brought on by critical, temporary and unforeseen circumstances during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Financial grants do not need to be repaid and are not taxable as income.
There are many ways to give back and improve your greater community. Share with us in the comments below additional opportunities and how you have been volunteering your time throughout these months. Offering your talents and resources to those in need is a special opportunity to help another person’s life. During a time when so much is up in the air, we encourage you to seek out volunteering to keep you grounded or utilize organizations in your area that are offering services you may need. We’re all in this together.
Nicole joined the UWCFD team in 2020 as a workplace giving specialist, having volunteered as a campaign coordinator for several years. Her previous experience includes communications roles with the UW Departments of Urology and Economics.
A Seattle native, Nicole enjoys reading, traveling, family time and lots of coffee.