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A Necessary Journey
SAFE EMERGENCE from COVID-19 for Volunteers

Chances are that during the COVID-19 Pandemic, you’ve received at least one email from family, friends, work colleagues, that concludes with the phrase, ‘Be safe’, in addition to other words of encouragement. If you ‘followed the rules’ set by public health, plus perhaps had some luck, albeit that you’ll likely never know that you were fortunate in avoiding the coronavirus, here’s hoping that you’re healthy, and looking to join me in fuller, in person volunteering roles and experiences.

We must pause to remember those who have experienced extreme symptoms of this dreadful affliction, perhaps lasting, and especially those who tragically have succumbed to COVID-19, their family, friends, and all those near and dear, wherever these events and grief have occurred. For them, a ‘new normal’ will be a struggle, mingled with painful memories. So many have been affected, unforgettably.

It’s certainly no secret that many of us are still rattled by an unprecedented pandemic experience, yet our human spirit longs to emerge from varying degrees of ‘isolation’ (lasting well on 16 months) necessitated by the contagion, to return to a gesture as simple as a hug, to enjoy the fullness of what being physically social and interpersonal are all about. It’s also no secret that the act of volunteering traditionally is among the most ‘interpersonal’ experiences that we’re capable of sharing. So many of us want to share in that experience.

Right now, a key question is worthwhile asking, as Canada continues to emerge from COVID-19 restrictions: How may you and I return safely to volunteer ‘roles’ within community service organizations, especially in Peel region? Any response to this is as much a matter of confidence as it is a matter of enlightened ‘public health’ and thoughtful personal decision-making. What follows here are more points to reflect upon, based upon my personal awareness within and outside the volunteer sector, rather than to be looked upon as a ‘primer’, given that ‘emergence’ will be a work-in-progress for everyone.\

At the top of the list, not surprisingly, is vaccination against COVID-19. Federal, provincial, and municipal ‘public policy’ and programs have been highly publicized and active, yet receiving a shot (two, in fact) remains a personal decision. Community service organizations will inevitably deliberate about altering ‘screening’ so as to mandate (full) immunization against COVID-19, as they look to the welfare (safety) of their staff, volunteers, and clients, and the general public. As vaccination percentages increase, one trend does appear to have emerged: Local mortality, plus general hospital and ICU admissions, have markedly decreased, a significant decline of key risk factors in contracting the virus. Uncertainty does remain about communicability of the virus and its variants, but it arguably would not be unreasonable for an organization which engages volunteers to pursue whatever ‘safety protocols’ are available and supported by reliable science and well-considered public policy. And vaccination will be at the top of the list, to be sure.

Would that vaccination was enough, at least at this point, yet all stakeholders in the volunteering sector must pay heed to current conditions. Until some sort of ‘critical mass’ or hard, positive threshold is achieved (as confirmed by reliable statistics), varying degrees of ‘physical restriction’ will remain, understandably. Let’s rephrase that: Precautions. And as these progressively are lifted, patience (and understanding) will need to be the watchwords.

Readers of ‘New & Views’ on the Volunteer MBC website may recall several articles in the last twelve months about ‘virtual’ (remote) volunteering, necessitated by the Pandemic. While I’m certainly looking forward to safe emergence, we must remember that volunteering by means of internet connection is here to stay, and it represents a further, highly useful channel for making a tangible contribution in community service. We owe it to ourselves and to those whom we assist to be comfortable with this option.

The most welcome belief that ‘recovery’ (emergence) from COVID-19 is merely a matter of time is firming up, and thanks to a supreme effort by government at all levels and to residents who have never lost sight of the importance and value of volunteerism, many of us are confident and ready to return to ‘in person’ roles that traditionally have make the biggest difference for those in our communities who are vulnerable and in need.

It’s a privilege to be associated with the volunteer centre for Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon, as Volunteer MBC continues to be a ‘barometer’ for measuring a safe return to volunteering in 2021, as one of its key community mandates, and I regard and rely on it as a valuable resource for information for everyone in the sector.

Since March, 2020, you and I have had a life experience not seen for generations. Our journey sees us on the brink of emergence, and may we support each other, with patience, thoughtfulness, and purpose towards achievement of a successful return to all that volunteering can be.

                    

Robert MacFarlane
Robert is the Consultant, Referral Services, for Volunteer MBC.